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Children Get a Head Start on Health

Head Start Mother Jackie Godinez holds her son Jeremy (pictured on the left) and Ashley (pictured on the right).Washing your hands, brushing after every meal, eating new kinds of vegetables and dancing every day.

These are some of the activities 4-year-old Ashley Godinez enjoyed at Head Start last year. Her mother Jackie wanted a safe place that would give Ashley a good start in education. Thanks to Head Start, a focus on learning and health made Ashley a better, stronger student.

“Ashley learned how to brush her teeth after breakfast and lunch at the center. It was taught at home, but it was reinforced here,” said Jackie about the health benefits of Head Start. “She actually ate her vegetables. I can’t get Ashley to eat her vegetables at home, but at Head Start she eats her spinach and other items. One day she came home and she said, ‘Mom I ate leaves.’ Ashley loves her spinach.”

Jackie is part of a large segment of American society (nearly one in five parents across the nation) in need of affordable child care. Head Start, which has been around since 1965, not only works to improve the lives of low-income children through quality education, it helps to address other areas that impede a child’s success.

Nearly a million children from low-income families, ages birth to 5, enroll in one of Head Start’s 50,000 classrooms each year. Children receive support in language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, social and emotional development, and approaches to learning.

Some of these low-income children -- who might not see a doctor or dentist on a regular basis -- also get support in physical development and health.

Each Head Start child gets a medical assessment, dental examination, immunizations and assistance in the provision of eyeglasses and hearing aids. Head Start centers also help establish a continuity of health services, such as developing family awareness of community health resources, establishing sound nutritional practices, transmitting pertinent health information to school systems, and screening for special problems and special strengths.

“Yes, hand washing, tooth brushing, providing the children with an hour of daily outdoor activity and discussion about healthy foods and healthy eating during mealtimes are all part of our daily health routine,” said Joy Trejo, senior director of Early Childhood Programs and Family Services at Campagna Center, where Ashley attended. “We work with the Virginia Cooperative Extension and have their folks come in and do healthy cooking classes with the children throughout the year.”

Trejo’s Head Start staff includes a nutritionist and health and nutrition coordinator that work with parents and community partners to coordinate resources and updated health and nutrition information.

“We’ve had a long-standing partnership with a local dentist who comes to the sites and does dental screening for the children throughout the year and meets with parents to educate them about the life-long health benefits of early oral health in preschool-aged children,” said Trejo.

Jackie is very happy with her daughter’s progress a year later. A healthy, happy Ashley graduated from her Head Start center in the spring and will enter into kindergarten this fall. Jackie has now enlisted her youngest, Jeremy, at Campagna Center’s Early Head Start Program.

“I would definitely recommend Head Start to another family,” said Godinez. “I don’t think people really know about Head Start and how it works. Yes there is a waiting list, but if you qualify your child will be admitted. Don’t hesitate in trying.”

To better serve their students nationwide, the Office of Head Start has partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics to operate the Office of Head Start National Center on Health.

The center showcases evidence-based practices that ensure all Head Start and Early Head Start agencies have access to the same level of high-quality information, training and technical assistance in order to produce the best possible outcomes for children.

The center also focuses on health, oral health, mental health and nutrition for pregnant women and children birth to 5 as well as their families.

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