The next chapter for Head Start

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 05:21 PM

Head Start, the federal program that promotes school readiness for children birth to age 5 from low-income families, came about when President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 declared The War on Poverty. Part of that war included looking at the creation of a comprehensive child development program to help meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool-aged children.
Part of Head Start’s mission was to help break the poverty cycle, ensuring children from low-income families had the structures in place – be it educational, nutritional or social – to be on the same plane as their more affluent counterparts when the school bell rang for kindergarten. An integral part of its founding mission also was to ensure parent involvement from the communities Head Start would serve.
In North Carolina, then-Gov. Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund created Operation Breakthrough’s Head Start Program as its flagship agency in response to President Johnson’s War on Poverty.
The organization has weathered its share of issues over the years, most recently coming under investigation by the state Office of Economic Opportunity. Under new leadership, it has righted its course.
As its 50th birthday approaches, the organization – and Durham – has much to celebrate. For the first time in its history, all five Operation Breakthrough Head Start child-care centers received five-star ratings.
The centers are working hard to make sure their charges are kindergarten-ready, which means knowing their alphabet, numbers and colors. But they also are working to ensure that parent involvement, an essential ingredient to student success, is cultivated early.
As reported by The Herald-Sun’s Greg Childress Monday, while it is common for the women in the lives of the children enrolled at Head Start to volunteer at the centers and become actively involved, it’s far less common for the men.
To the agency’s credit, it is trying to find ways to encourage men -- whether they are fathers, grandfathers, uncles or big brothers – to become more active participants in the lives and education of the children in the program.
The importance of this outreach should be underscored. Studies show that children who have caring and involved fathers have stronger educational outcomes, better verbal skills and are more equipped at handling the stress and frustration associated with schooling.
There are certainly other factors that can come into play, but having as much support as possible around a child as he or she embarks on elementary education can’t help but improve the odds. Focusing on this part of its mission is an excellent way for Operation Breakthrough’s Head Start program to begin its next chapter.