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Does Early Childhood Education Make a Difference: The Measurable Impact of Head Start

Step Forward, Ohio’s designated anti-poverty agency for Cuyahoga County, is enrolling for its Early Head Start and Head Start programs.


Head Start is the largest federally funded early childhood education program in the country. Early Head Start serves pregnant mothers and children three weeks of age through age three; Head Start serves children ages three through five years old. Services are available at no cost to income-eligible residents of Cuyahoga County.


“Enrolling a child into a high-quality early education program means giving them a head start in life. It’s about providing children the best possible foundation to grow, learn and thrive,” Antoinette Hawthorne, Step Forward’s Early Childhood Education Service Manager, explained. “A lot of people think kindergarten is the starting point, but children begin forming learning habits much earlier in life.”


Data shows the first five years of a child's life are incredibly important. During this time, a child’s brain develops rapidly, allowing them to retain up to 80 percent of their lifetime knowledge. This period is crucial in building the foundation for a child's educational, social, and emotional success.


“At Head Start, we balance teacher-to-student ratios, implement a comprehensive curriculum and provide individualized observations to support students and prepare them for the concepts introduced in kindergarten,” Hawthorne said.


According to the Ohio Department of Education's 2018-2019 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, half of all children entering kindergarten required additional support to engage in instruction at the kindergarten level. Hawthorne continued to explain that this is where Head Start programs continue to play a crucial role in supporting the children's development.


“Head Start isn’t just a place families drop off their children for a few hours. It’s a place where the children’s minds start buzzing with excitement and curiosity. It’s where they learn to make friends, share, and develop social skills that will shape their interactions for years to come,” Inez Owens, one of Step Forward’s Head Start Site Administrators, said. “Our qualified teachers help shape students’ emotional development, language and literacy, their motor skills, and physical development skills, all before kindergarten. Those are skills that children need for a successful academic performance later in life.”


Step Forward confirmed in its 2021-2022 annual report that more than 85-percent of its Early Head Start students met or exceeded the expected skill level when participating cooperatively and constructively in group situations. More than 90-percent of its Head Start students met or exceeded the expected skill level for balancing the needs and rights of themselves and others.


“Enrolling a child into Head Start is about setting that child up for success, happiness and a bright future they can confidently embrace,” Owens insisted.


Head Start also proves to be advantageous beyond academic preparation. By providing nutrition services, dental and health screenings, Step Forward’s Head Start program continues to promote good physical health in students. The agency provided each Head Start student with hearing and vision screenings and dental checkups. Data also showed the children enrolled with the agency’s Head Start program were more likely to have health insurance and were more likely to be immunized.


“By catching any health-related issues early on, we can help prevent bigger problems down the road,” Hawthorne said. “Head Start believes in a proactive approach to healthcare for our children.”


Step Forward also said its Early Head Start program provides diapers and formula for babies and breakfast, lunch and snack for older enrolled children.


"Head Start serves as a one-stop-shop for ensuring young children are healthy and thriving,” Hawthorne said. “Healthy bodies lead to healthy minds! It’s amazing how something as simple as a nutritious meal can fuel their energy and concentration throughout the day.”


Recognizing that parental involvement also plays a role in preparing children for kindergarten, Step Forward Head Start continues to encourage parent engagement. More than 200 parents participated in monthly meetings and workshops during the 2022-2023 school year, creating a supportive environment that helps children develop a strong interest in academics.


“It is important to understand that parents who actively participate in their children's education greatly influence their academic achievements,” Dyna Richardson, Step Forward’s Program Governance Coordinator, said. “Head Start is not just about the enrolled child, but about embracing their entire family. We understand that a child’s success is deeply intertwined with the wellbeing of their family unit. We provide resources and guidance and offer a network of support to ensure Head Start families feel empowered and uplifted. We recognize that when parents are engaged, informed, and equipped with the tools they need, the entire family thrives.”


Step Forward Head Start offers high-quality comprehensive early childhood education, ensuring that every child, no matter their background or circumstances, has access to the necessary tools and resources to start their educational journey successfully. By prioritizing the establishment of a strong foundation for learning, Step Forward Head Start prepares children for the transition into kindergarten and beyond.


To learn more about Step Forward’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs and to enroll your child(ren), visit stepforwardtoday.org/head-start


Step Forward is also hiring! The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full time employees and $500 for part-time employees. Positions include teachers, family service workers, nutrition aides and more. Learn more and apply to open positions online at stepforwardtoday.org/careers.

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