A Head Start


Standing in my grandmother’s living room, in front of her perfectly preserved, plastic-covered couch, I am wearing my cap and gown from my Head Start graduation.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men [and women].”–Frederick Douglass

A few weeks ago I saw a news story that broke my heart. A Head Start program was having a lottery to see which children would be able to remain and which children would be sent home, no longer able to attend. Head Start is a federal pre-school program that serves children from low-income families, “enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.” Initiated by Pres. Lyndon Johnson as part of his “War on Poverty” in 1965, it has served more than 30 million children.

The budget cuts (also known as the Sequester) affecting Head Start were set in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011, requiring a five percent reduction in the budget in 2013. In addition to holding lotteries for students, Head Start programs across the country have addressed their reduced funding by laying off teachers, curtailing the length of the school year, and completely eliminating some centers.

Education is one of the things that I am extremely passionate about. Being a Head Start alumna, I began to think about Head Start and what it meant to me. Compulsory education for children in my state, Mississippi, began at age six. But because of Head Start, I had the opportunity to go to school at age five.

I can’t remember everything about that school year, but Head Start was important  because it is where I learned to love school.  I eagerly awaited the white passenger van that picked me up every morning. One morning I fell and cut my hand on a piece of broken glass before the bus came, and my only concern was whether I’d be able to attend school that day.

I remember reading, math, art, recess, and singing songs like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”  I remember nap time, after which we had a snack of graham crackers and Hawaiian Punch. (I never went to sleep because I hated naps.) I learned how to get along with other children, which was really important for me because I spent a lot of time alone. I made friendships in Head Start that lasted through high school.

Perhaps my most vivid memory is going to the dentist. We all went–the whole class. I think it was my first time and probably some of the other kids’ first times too. I, unfortunately, had a mouth full of cavities. My love of candy had betrayed me, but it was a lesson learned: To avoid the dentist’s drill, I had to give up the candy and take better care of my teeth.

While there are some studies that question the effectiveness of Head Start, I have no doubt that it was beneficial to me. My classmates and I were ready for first grade the next year. It is unfortunate that the Sequester is hurting some of our most vulnerable citizens. All children deserve the opportunity to learn.


7 thoughts on “A Head Start

  1. Doesn’t it just seem like common sense to continue to invest in the education “of our most vulnerable citizens?” So many adults got their “head start” in this program and statistics show that they were better off because of it. In the same way that we have Denzel Washington as the face of the Boys & Girls Club, we need to have a prominent figure advocating for this program as well.

    Sharing your experience is really important, Dr. Realist 1.

    • I agree! It is amazing to me that our country finds the time to fund and initiate war and even weapons for other countries, but somehow even with all of our taxes we can’t find money to educate out children. The Leaders of Tomorrow (With A Balanced and even education at that)

      • Yeah, “we got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” Even LBJ found out that we can’t have more guns AND more butter.

    • Hmm…Dr. Realist 1? I like that. Anyway, you’re right. Often we (in the U. S.) need someone to be “the face” of an issue before it gets any traction. And that is unfortunate.

  2. I am the Director of multiple grant-funded preschool programs for a school district outside of Detroit, but off of the infamous 8 Mile strip. Head Start makes up over half of our student population. We, too, had to give back money due to sequestration close to the end of the school year and staff prep. time will be reduced next year. Most of these programs, although associated with school districts are self-sufficient and gain little or no support from their general budgets.

    I keep pressing our school district to invest in early education and then maybe retention rates/special education referrals (K-2) will decrease. The reason Head Start works is because not only is school readiness important; there is an emphasis on meeting the basic needs of the children AND the family: nutritious meals daily, medical/dental/mental health services, and family resource staff- not to mention parent engagement component, trainings, empowerment, and advocacy opportunities.

    All I can do is shake my head at the government who invests more money in war and animals than our most precious resource – children! The fact of the matter is this…Head Start serves families in poverty; however, many in society are not passionate about serving the most vulnerable groups (ie. homeless, hungry, impoverished, etc.), unlike the folks in my circle of friends.

    • I could not have said that better myself! I especially appreciate the point you make about how Head Start addresses the needs of the entire family. We live in a society in which there is a pocket of people who are not concerned about anyone, but themselves because they believe that helping someone (in this case, children), somehow lessens/weakens their possessions.

      In fear of using a cliche, the statement “We are as strong as I our weakest link” really does articulate the weakness of our country. It is a proven fact, that when we take care of the least among us, by providing them with opportunities (or, at least allowing them access to the SAME opportunities), we become a healthier and wealthier society.

      Thanks for sharing, and thanks for being another important “face” for Head Start.

  3. I definitely feel your passion. Your district is fortunate to have someone like you advocating for children.

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