Head Start – here’s my experience! It works, one child, one family at a time, each and every day.
Let me tell you what it looks like. I live in a rural mid-coast Maine community surrounded by expensive summer homes and significant poverty. The two dwell side by side! I didn’t realize how many of the people living on my street were Head Start families until I followed the little yellow Head Start school bus one morning. People I knew, friends of my children, hard-working families struggling to make ends meet, looking for a window of opportunity that would allow their children to be successful in school and life, to rise above the poverty they were raised in.
Ten years ago I “retired” from my job in D.C. and returned to my home in Maine to be with my children and grandchildren, having accepted the position of Director at my local Head Start program. Because our program was relatively small, I came to know the faces of our families and children, their struggles and triumphs, met them at the grocery store, town meetings, and school events.
And riding on our little yellow Head Start buses, I experienced the rural poverty often hidden away from the wealthy coastal communities. Substandard housing with no running water, children and their families with unreliable transportation, isolated from resources and support were much too common. This brings me to a great example of how Head Start served as a window of opportunity for two children living in this rural poverty.
Siblings, a brother and sister, showed up for the first day of Head Start so shy and dirty that no other children would talk to them. Miss Debra, their teacher, spent much of the school year teaching them how to care for themselves, toileting, hygiene, socially acceptable behavior, good nutrition. She was concerned she was spending so much time on self-care that the children weren’t learning other school readiness skills. On the last day of school, however, the little boy began pointing to the labels put up around the classroom, reading off the words. Miss Debra told me, “and here I thought all I really taught him that year was to wash his hands after using the bathroom!”
The little girl, so shy and dirty on the first day of Head Start, went on to be a member of her student council and spoke at her 6th grade step up day!
My experience as a Head Start Director and my personal experience as a member of my community tell me Head Start Works! Head Start families want their children to be successful in school and life just like everybody else. Many families struggle to make that happen but with the resources and support of Head Start and Early Head Start programs, the window of opportunity for their children opens and amazing things happen. I know, I see it every day.