“President Obama’s cradle-to-career education agenda begins at birth, and we know that investing in high-quality early learning is one of the best choices we can make,” remarked Secretary Duncan in a special message to participants at the 38th Annual National Head Start Association conference in Kansas City, April 5 – 8, 2011.
More than 3,000 Head Start directors, administrators and early childhood professionals as well as parents attended the conference where employees of the Department of Education discussed the new partnerships between the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The new partnership seeks to coordinate resources and support in order to be more effective in serving children.
A large number of visitors to the ED exhibit booth were parents who serve on their local Head Start Parent Policy Council and were provided the opportunity to attend the conference. Parents are actively involved in all areas of Head Start and provide input for the curriculum, volunteer in Head Start centers, as well as conduct home visits and participate in parent and policy committees and on policy councils. These committees of parents and other community representatives are empowered to actively participate in the shared decision making process. In addition, parents receive training in education, nutrition, career development, and parenting skills.
Throughout the conference, U.S. Department of Education Region VII staff from the Kansas City Regional Office heard from parents across the country expressing appreciation for the Head Start program in allowing them to learn practical, effective strategies to support their child’s development; facilitate school readiness; and help their family attain self-sufficiency. A Pittsburgh parent remarked that Head Start has given her the tools to learn and fine-tune personal skills. She was enthusiastic to take back to her council strategies for involving and motivating other parents to become more visibly involved in the program.
Besides learning how to enhance parenting skills through involvement in the Head Start Parent Policy Council, Gregory Myers of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, MI, became skilled in the democratic process and is a newly elected school board member of his local school district.
ED knows that parents play an integral role in early learning, including in programs such as Head Start and in programs funded through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We all share in the responsibility of ensuring that children and families have the help that they need, and that young learners are put on the right path to becoming college and career ready.
Jeanne Ackerson is the Communications Associate in ED’s Region VII office in Kansas City, MO. Before joining ED she taught for 20 years in Kansas City, MO, public schools.