Last month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Head Start. During President Lyndon Johnson’s state of the union address in January 1964, he proposed ground-breaking government programs – now referred to as the War of Poverty – to combat the 19 percent national poverty rate. The War of Poverty programs included what is now Medicaid and Medicare, Job Corps and Head Start. In May 1965, announcing the creation of Head Start, President Johnson said,
“Five- and six-year-old children are inheritors of poverty’s curse, and not its creators. Unless we act, these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark. I believe that this is one of the constructive, and one of the most sensible, and also one of the most exciting programs that this nation has ever undertaken.”
Five things you should know about Head Start:
1. Head Start focuses on the whole child…
Since 1965 Head Start and Early Head Start has served 32 million children.
Head Start focuses on preparing 3 and 4 year-olds for elementary school not just through education. The program also makes sure they are healthy. It provides health services such as immunizations, dental, medical, and mental health and nutritional services.
2. …and the whole family.
Parents are involved in the planning and implementation of activities by serving on policy councils, participating in classes and workshops on child development and volunteering in the program. ESNG’s programs – from early literacy to mental health – are family-centered. In addition, social services provided by the Family Service Advocates ensure that families have the resources to help their child.
3. Head Start helps kids reach higher education.
A study by Harvard University’s David Deming found that children who attended Head Start programs were more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their siblings who did not participate in Head Start programs. That is to say, though, that once these children reach elementary school it’s not a breeze. These resources need to continue, but Head Start gives its alumni a better chance of success over time.
4. There are many, many successful Head Start alumni:
Silva Mathews Burwell, US Secretary of Health and Human Services
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation
Chris Rock, Comedian and Actor
Bonnie St. John, Harvard Graduate, Rhodes Scholar, Paralympian, Author and Motivational Speaker
Shaquille O’Neal, Basketball player
Anna Maria Chavez, First Latina CEO of the Girl Scouts
Loretta Sanchez, Congresswoman
5. In 1968, Head Start began funding a television series that would eventually be called Sesame Street.*
Creators of Sesame Street wanted a show that would engage children and teach them important concepts they would need to be successful at school. It worked! After Sesame Street was introduced, children living in places where its broadcast could be more readily received saw a 14 percent drop in their likelihood of being behind in school.
*Okay, that may not be a fact you should know, but it may help you win the next trivia night…
Head Start and Early Head Start are such important programs that are in place to break the cycle of poverty. It starts with the whole child, whole family and whole community.