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Understanding Head Start: A Comprehensive Early Childhood Program for Low-Income Families

October is a special month for Head Start in the United States. It marks Head Start Awareness Month, a time to shine a light on a program that has been making a profound difference on the lives of millions of families and children for more than 50 years.

The history of Head Start

Several people, including Lady Bird Johnson, stand with a Head Start poster
Lady Bird Johnson attends the National Head Start Day ceremony in 1965. Courtesy: LBJ Presidential Library

Head Start was founded in 1964. In the midst of civil rights movements and growing awareness of poverty’s impact, President Lyndon B. Johnson had just declared the ‘War on Poverty.’ This declaration was a nationwide call to address the root causes of poverty and provide opportunities for those who had been left behind by society. At the time, it was believed that the cycle of poverty could only be broken by investing in the youngest members of society.

When Head Start was established, a diverse group of experts, educators, and community leaders gathered to shape the program’s curriculum and approach. They recognized that education was not just about teaching the children, but about nurturing the whole child and addressing the complex challenges faced by children living in poverty.

What is Head Start

Head Start offers a high-quality preschool education for children three years of age to five. It is a holistic approach to child development that addresses the child’s educational, emotional, nutritional, and health needs.

Head Start recognizes the importance of parents as a child’s first and most influential teacher. The program actively involves families in their child’s education and offers resources and support to help parents improve their own skills and become advocates for their children.

By providing comprehensive services, Head Start helps children gain the essential skills needed to succeed in school and later in life. According to Step Forward’s records, the agency helped successfully transition more than 2,700 children to kindergarten between 2020 and 2023.

For many low-income families, Head Start is a lifeline. It eases the financial burden of childcare while providing their children with a quality early education. This, in turn, allows parents to work or pursue further education, ultimately improving their economic prospects and breaking the cycle of poverty.

The impact of Head Start

Over the years, Head Start has touched the lives of millions of children and families, offering them a glimmer of hope and a chance for a brighter future. Research has consistently shown that children who participate in Head Start programs perform better in school, are more likely to graduate from high school and college and have improved long-term health outcomes.

A child looks at the camera

Head Start Awareness Month

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed October as Head Start Awareness month, recognizing the need to celebrate the incredible impact of the program. Ever since, October has been a time for the community to come together and acknowledge the transformative power of Head Start.

How You Can Get Involved

As we celebrate Head Start Awareness Month, there are many ways to get involved and support this vital program.

1. Spread awareness: share information about Head Start on social media and with your friends and family. The more people know about it, the more support we can garner!

2. Volunteer: Many Head Start programs welcome volunteers! Consider offering your time and skills to support children and families in your community. Or better yet, apply for a full-time position! Step Forward is currently hiring for more than 80 Head Start positions, including teachers, education aides, and more.

3. Advocate: Contact your local representatives and urge them to prioritize funding for Head Start programs. Your voice can make a difference!

4. Donate: If you’re able, consider making a donation to a local Head Start program. Every contribution, no matter how small, can help make a positive impact.

Head Start Awareness Month serves as a reminder of the incredible work that this program has been doing for decades. It’s time to celebrate the children whose lives have been transformed, the families who have been empowered, and the communities that have been strengthened!

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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