Friday, Jun. 2nd 2017

Head Start Advantage; Doing Good, Great Results for Families








A rocket scientist, the head of the NAACP and the leader of the Ford Foundation: These folks are all Head Start alumni and “stars” of a new 18-minute-long documentary that details the Head Start advantage—what happens when children from birth to age 5 are entered into a program that develops their language, motor and social skills, and does much more.

The film introduces us to rocket scientist Sylvia Acevedo, who is now the interim CEO of the Girl Scouts of America; William Brooks, the president of the NAACP; and Darren Walker, CEO of the Ford Foundation. As the film program notes state, “Collectively, they paint a moving picture of Head Start’s enormous impact as an investment in our nation’s greatest resource: our children.”

My own personal success springs from the same place—I entered a Head Start program in 1974, and I share the same wonderful story that Acevedo, Brooks and Walker tell. Beyond these stories of success are hard facts: Research over the last decade demonstrates the value of early childhood education. Investment in young people who are at a disadvantage at the beginning of their lives reaps huge social rewards down through the years. Head Start alumni are more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to be incarcerated and less likely to get a divorce. Other findings show more of Head Start’s impact:

  • Children completing Early Head Start achieved gains on standardized tests of cognitive and language development, may need fewer special learning interventions later on, and performed better on critical social-emotional tasks, such as relating to their parents, paying attention and behaving appropriately, according to a seven-year DHS evaluation.
  • Four- and five-year-olds participating were found to gain benefits that lasted through fifth grade, according to Duke University research.
  • Business leaders argue that the benefits are not just long-term, but immediate — that preschool creates jobs, leaves low-income parents free to work and reduces the number of children in high-priced special education programs and those having to repeat grades.

Head Start achieves success one child at a time by emphasizing early attention to physical health as well as emotional, mental and intellectual health. In the documentary, Dr. Dana Suskind, director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative says, “Learning doesn’t start on the first day of school. It doesn’t start on the first day of kindergarten. It starts on the first day of life. There are so many other countries out there that are taking our research and putting it into action systematically, developing complex approaches to the early childhood care setting—because they know if they want their populations to be at the top…in the STEM field, they need to start on Day One.”

I think our rocket scientist, NAACP leader and Ford Foundation chief would whole-heartedly agree. Right here in Head Start Region 9, we have many of our own success stories—stretching from infancy to adulthood. On the R9HSA website, you can read about how:

  • A Head Start home educator just happened to be on hand to take an expectant mother to the hospital where she gave birth—with minutes to spare.
  • In health screening, a young boy was found to have blurry vision that no one knew about and if not corrected could have resulted in blindness.
  • A Head Start alum is now organizing a book drive for a local Head Start program as part of his college senior project and another alum returned to serve on the regional Head Start board.

Head Start programs demonstrate something that we need to emphasize in the current political climate: the value of good government. These days, we all hear about disappointment and distrust of government programs. I think the intelligent strategy behind the Head Start program, though, is something to loudly proclaim to dispel such cynicism. This enlightened initiative operates via local nonprofits and deep parental involvement—local control by the people who are involved and impacted. I think that’s great government!  And in financial terms, every dollar invested in Head Start returns seven dollars in benefits later on.

Myself, I am such a proud alum of Head Start that I helped start the National Head Start Alumni Network and now chair the National Head Start Association board. I’m way beyond being a “poster child” for Head Start. I’m a “poster adult” for the Head Start advantage. And happily, I’m not the exception, I’m the rule: There are millions of adults in the U.S. who are Head Start alumni, whose lives are exceptionally better off because of this amazing program founded 52 years ago by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, when he envisioned America as a Great Society.

And LBJ was right. We are a great society—and it’s programs like Head Start that help make America be great.

Damon Carson, J.D., is general manager for education, instruction and operations of the Neighborhood House Association in San Diego. NHA provides employment to more than 800 team members and touches the lives of thousands of San Diego families a year through a network of 21 programs (including Head Start) in 125 locations. Carson holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University and Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from San Diego State University. Damon was recently elected as the Board Chair of the National Head Start Association (NHSA). NHSA is a nonprofit organization that represents over 1,600 Head Start grantees, and works to influence policy in the area of early childhood education.

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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.

The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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