Can you remember your very first teacher? Can you remember the adult, aside from your parents, who introduced you to new experiences, taught you right from wrong, and who acted as a mentor in your early years?
For more than 32 million Americans this person was a dedicated teacher from Head Start. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this national early childhood education program that not only sets our little ones up for success but also helps parents overcome obstacles to education, employment, and housing, empowering them to create a positive, nurturing environment where their children can grow up.
One of the Top Programs in the Nation
The Santa Cruz County chapter of Head Start, one of Encompass’s largest programs, serves 608 federally funded children (415 Head Start preschoolers and 193 Early Head Start pregnant women, infants, and toddlers) at no cost to participants. Cynthia Sloane, Director of Child and Family Development Programs here at Encompass for the past 11 years and a Head Start director for over 20 years, is incredibly proud of her program’s many achievements.
The Santa Cruz County chapter scored in the top ten percent of all programs nationally which Sloane says speaks for the quality of their teachers, training programs, classroom practices, and management team. This is an exciting accomplishment not only for the program but for our community as a whole. “People don’t think that early childhood education affects them but it affects all of us,” says Sloane. “Just look at our nation’s high school graduation rates, look at how many people are in prison, look at our children’s test scores. We need to all ask ourselves, what are we doing for our young children?”
Since its revolutionary beginnings in 1965, Head Start has been doing a lot for our young children. 22 percent of the children in America and six percent of our children here in Santa Cruz live in poverty. By focusing on both the children and their parents, Head Start works to ensure that those who can’t afford childcare or a private preschool have a safe place to bring their children and know how to provide a safe place at home.
Parents Get Involved
Head Start parents have the opportunity to sit on the policy council where they receive extensive training in the Head Start performance standards, how to read financial reports, and how to vote and approve a grant. Being actively involved in decisions around their child’s education gives parents the confidence and knowledge to go on to serve on other local boards and committees and to get more involved in the inner-workings of their community. “It is magical to see what the program can do for families,” says Sloane. “A shy, introverted parent may start by volunteering in the classroom and go on to be elected to policy council. By the end of the year, I’ve seen these quiet parents transform into knowledgeable, interested council members with great ideas. Some have even gone on to act as leaders in their city’s public schools.”
Head Start is celebrating their 50th anniversary with events all over the country and our chapter here at home celebrated as well. They held a cocktail party on Friday, August 28 for Head Start educators and involved community leaders and Head Start partner the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery opened their doors free of charge on Saturday, August 29 to all Head Start families for another fun celebration of the program’s 50 successful years.
Read Cynthia Sloane’s Op Ed, “For 50 years, program has given kids a head start,” published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on August 15, 2015.
Watch the interview with Sloane that aired on local news channel KION here.
For more information about Head Start call 831-724-3885.