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Parents as Partners: Creating Advocates for a True “Head Start”

Pictures covered the walls of my classroom creating a tapestry of memories throughout the year. Tiny chairs lined our large-group rug, each garnished with a small sand-pail full of summer activities, poems, and pictures. Under each sand-pail laid a copy of the book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” Students, dressed for success, began to walk into the classroom with their moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Smiles of excitement and pride lit the room as we celebrated Room 8’s “Wise Owls” pre-kindergarten graduation. As headlines sweep the nation of Tulsa’s prekindergarten success, and in recognition of Head Start Awareness Month this October, I am proud to share my personal experience with the Community Action Project (CAP) Family.

From the beginning of the school year, I had a vision: 100% of my students would leave Room 8 kindergarten-ready. I believed that in order to see exponential growth in my class, it was of utmost importance to know my students and to have a relationship with each family. One of my fondest memories as a teacher with CAP Tulsa is the relationships formed with my students’ parents. Every morning and every afternoon I had the luxury of catching up with parents during drop off and pick up. We shared stories of the school day and laughed about the silly songs and phrases my students had picked up from my classroom. “Literacy Nights” happened every quarter in room 8; my little, wise owls brought their whole family. Together, they took part in games and activities that made letter sounds and early reading fun. Families warmly welcomed me into their homes for our bi-annual home visits. During these visits we shared coffee, listened to the kids share their talent (singing none other than “Let it Go”) and spent time creating a personalized vision for their child’s pre-kindergarten year.

I’ll never forget the moment I began to realize the small community that had been established.  I overheard parents engaging in conversation; they discussed resources that helped language development at home, as well as books they had read that further intrigued their child into the robust world of reading. I watched, with a smile, as parents stayed for extended periods in the morning and spent time with multiple students in the classroom, helping them perfect their names at sign-in and answer the ‘Question of the Day.’ Parents, who once felt nervous in a school of English-speaking faculty, volunteered their mornings with my class, reading picture books in Spanish, connecting the diverse cultures and assets of home and school. A sense of family was established and enveloped my students with rich language, individualized help and the belief that every thought and idea they had was valid and important.

CAP Tulsa drove my passion for parent engagement. As a Head Start community-based agency, CAP Tulsa provides parents the opportunities and support needed in order to be economically self-sufficient and confident advocates for their children’s academic achievements. CAP’s focus on families aligns with Head Start’s framework for supporting both parents’ and children’s success in a community-based setting.  One family, that remains near and dear to my heart, found CAP Tulsa schools after a series of crises. Soon after the adoption of their two daughters, Angela abruptly lost her job and Bobby was diagnosed with cancer. Desiring a high-quality pre-kindergarten program, fit to give their girls a true “head start”, Angela and Bobby found CAP. Within CAP Tulsa classrooms, Angela and Bobby witnessed their daughters quickly advance in social skills, literacy, and math. They also found fellowship within a parent support group that encouraged them in their new role as parents and provided emotional support as they regrouped financially.

From the beginning of the school year, I had a vision: 100% of my students would leave Room 8 kindergarten-ready. 

This is the fourth year that CAP Tulsa has been “home” to me. When I refer to the “CAP Tulsa Family,” I’m not simply referring to the bond I share with my fellow teachers and colleagues; I’m also referring to the relationships I shared with my students and their families. Through teaching with this program, I have come to believe that long-term academic success is best fostered by the depth and quality of relationships I was able to build with parents, and how these parents have and will continue to encourage and campaign for their children throughout their academic experience. CAP Tulsa empowers their teachers to adopt innovative strategies that will equip parents to advocate for and engage in their child’s learning – a function that history has demonstrated to be essential. On graduation day, I felt the reality of my vision for the year come to life. I would not have seen these results without the daily engagement, partnership, and support that my parents so graciously offered.


About the Author

Olivia Harper is a 2012 (Tulsa) TFA alum. After completing her two year commitment with the corps, Olivia stayed in the classroom for a third year with Community Action Project of Tulsa. Olivia has recently transitioned into the role of Learning and Performance Specialist with CAP Tulsa. Within her new role, she coordinates monthly new-hire orientations and designs, develops and delivers training courses that improve individual and organizational performance.