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Head Start celebrates 59 years

As we celebrate Head Start’s birthday, Step Forward is reflecting on the crucial role of early childhood education, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lady Bird Johnson attends the ceremony for National Head Start Day on June 30, 1965.
Lady Bird Johnson attends the ceremony for National Head Start Day on June 30, 1965. Courtesy: U.S. National Archives

Head Start, a program designed to promote school readiness for children, has been a source of optimism for thousands of children and families nationwide. Established in 1965, the initiative has served as a lifeline for more than 40 million vulnerable children and their families, providing critical support and opportunities for growth.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s call to action in 1964 led to the creation of Head Start, following the recommendations of a panel of child development experts chaired by Dr. Robert Cooke. The initiative was designed to address the needs of at-risk preschool children by offering a comprehensive program that catered to their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs. Originally intended as an eight-week summer program staffed by volunteers, Head Start quickly surpassed expectations, attracting more than 561,000 children nationwide.

Over the years, Head Start has expanded its reach. Today, it serves more than 800,000 children and their families annually across all 50 states. It operates under the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Head Start’s success is supported by a wealth of research and statistical evidence that demonstrates its positive impact. According to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, children who participated in Head Start showed significant improvements in school readiness, including cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Head Start participants are more likely to graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education compared to similar children who did not attend Head Start. Finally, this study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics found that Head Start participation was associated with improved health outcomes, including fewer rates of obesity and better overall health.

Fast forward to 2024, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the inequalities and challenges faced by many families, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As schools and childcare centers closed their doors, many children were left without access to crucial learning opportunities and support systems.

A child stares into the camera

“The disruption in education has the potential to have long-lasting effects on children’s development, particularly in areas such as social-emotional skills, cognitive development, and overall wellbeing,” Dr. Thea Wilson, Step Forward’s Vice President of Children and Families, said.

Head Start has played a vital role in mitigating these effects by providing comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. The program’s holistic approach recognizes that education is not just about academics but also about fostering a nurturing environment that supports the overall development of the child.

One of the key strengths of Head Start has been its focus on early intervention. Research has shown that the early years of a child’s life are critical for brain development, and the experiences children have during this time can have a profound impact on their future success. By providing high-quality early childhood education, Head Start helps set children on a path towards academic achievement and lifelong success.

Head Start’s emphasis on parent involvement and support is crucial, especially in light of the challenges families have faced during the pandemic. By engaging parents in their children’s education, Head Start helps create a strong foundation for learning and development that extends beyond the classroom.

An Early Head Start child points to her teacher

“As we look to the future, it is clear that early childhood education, like that provided by Head Start, will play a vital role in helping children recover from the effects of the pandemic,” Dr. Wilson said. “By investing in early childhood education, we are not just investing in the future of individual children but also in the future of our communities and society as a whole.”

As Head Start celebrates its 59th year of existence, Step Forward celebrates the incredible work of this program and we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that every child has access to high-quality early childhood education.

Give your child a Head Start and enroll today! Click here.

Step Forward Head Start is 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. Step Forward Head Start is looking for education staff passionate about preparing young students for the future and helping them develop a love for learning early. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.

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