Letter to the Editor: Let's ensure Head Start continues to be a window of opportunity
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 5, 2014 | Chicago, IL
The school year that just began marks the 50th anniversary of Head Start—50 years of investing in America’s most vulnerable children and their families so that they may have an opportunity to succeed in school and in life. As we mark this milestone, many in Washington have offered a flurry of proposals to reform and improve the way Head Start operates. Some of these proposals posit good thoughts and suggestions, but most seem to forget that Head Start takes place in classrooms across the nation, not in black print on white paper. Clearly, what is missing from these beltway discussions, are the voices of Head Start who know best what these policies look like when the rubber hits the road.
My experience with Head Start dates back to 2001, when I began working as the social worker at Erie Neighborhood House, a nonprofit organization seeking to empower low-income, primarily Latino families. I would later become the director of the NAEYC-accredited childcare program at Erie House, and I now serve as the organization’s executive director. I have seen firsthand families living in significant poverty, lacking vital resources and support that deeply impact their children’s most crucial first years of life. To support these children and families, Erie Neighborhood House offers an award-winning Head Start program that includes an onsite psychologist, social worker, and special education team to offer individual therapy for children and families, domestic violence counseling, and case management services for special needs children. Being able to access high quality, bilingual preschool and family supportive services is critical to affirming the dignity and capacity of all persons in reaching their fullest potential.
Here in Illinois, Head Start’s direct federal to local funding structure has ensured that our centers have leading roles in the design of interventions, such as the intensive support services described above, that enable us to meet the individual and unique circumstances of the people we serve. To address the needs of our diverse population we focus our resources on an individualized curriculum and intensive supportive services that keep families connected.
With the child poverty rate at a 20-year high in the United States, it is imperative that Head Start continue providing these essential support services to the 900,000 low-income children and families they serve—without the fear of new experimental models that encourage disinvestment in pre-K funding and threaten to derail the national program’s current success as it provides families a clear path out of poverty. The long-term results speak for themselves: Head Start participants are receiving high school diplomas, staying out of prison, going to college and earning more money at a higher rate than that of their non-Head Start peers.
As those in Washington debate how to best grow and continue to improve Head Start, it is imperative that local community decisions and innovations are not hindered by added layers of government bureaucracy at the state or federal level. Over the past half century, Head Start programs have helped put millions of our nation’s most vulnerable families back on the path to self-sufficiency. Together, let’s ensure that Head Start continues to be a window of opportunity for generations to come.
Executive Director, Erie Neighborhood House