By Angie Godfrey, Program Specialist, Office of Head Start
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Head Start, many people have shared their memories and stories on how the program has influenced their lives. Former Head Start children tell such sweet memories of their first experience meeting a teacher or a home visitor, and how they were welcomed into a world of books and painting and circle times with friends. Parents also describe their first encounters with Head Start. They share stories about how the program not only supported their child’s development but helped the whole family grow and develop as well.
Often, the parent’s memory begins with learning about Head Start through a flyer or a staff person who knocked on the door. This first outreach begins with caring staff offering help for their child and becomes a lifelong journey for the entire family. While the child engages in wonderful learning opportunities with classroom teachers, the family service workers engage with parents, who learn about new possibilities for themselves. Parents begin to see themselves as someone who can make a difference in the life of their child, and as someone who can make a difference as member of their community.
Reading and listening to the stories of staff, families, and children reminds me each time that Head Start provides more than comprehensive child development and family support services. It establishes an environment that is a lifeline for families and the communities they live in. So often, families living in poverty are not aware of services available for themselves and their children. Head Start staff are the catalyst who help families access needed services and resources which can improve their lives and foster their belief in themselves.
Parents tell how they were welcomed to participate in parent committees and on the Policy Council, where program managers respect them as decision-makers. They share how they learned by experience that their contributions matter to their own child and to other children in the program and community. I hear how their child’s teacher, home visitor, or family service worker taught them what it means to work with their own child, and how they grew to better understand their role as their child’s most important caregiver, teacher, and advocate. Parents also talk about how they benefited from other family support staff who offered services ranging from health and nutrition connections to help finding housing. These families become part of the communities they live in, accessing resources and services that support their development as parents, as well as their child’s development.
The Head Start staff they encounter open doors to new ideas and dreams for parents. Many parents receive training through the program that leads them to college courses and new work opportunities. Parents finish their General Educational Development (GED), enroll in classes at the community college, volunteer in the Head Start program, or work as substitutes in classrooms. Head Start staff help to enrich their programs and communities by supporting the growth and development of families both as parents and professionals.
Today, about 25 percent of Head Start staff are former parents. Thanks to the strong relationships that are built around their children, parents working with Head Start staff begin to think about their own potential and dream of opportunities for their future.