As Head Start turns 50 this month, a graduate says it changed his life

Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a new federal program called Head Start.

Here is part of Johnson’s statement:

“Today we are able to announce that we will have open, and we believe operating this summer, coast-to-coast, some 2,000 child development centers serving as many as possibly a half million children.

This means that nearly half the preschool children of poverty will get a head start on their future. These children will receive preschool training to prepare them for regular school in September. They will get medical and dental attention that they badly need, and parents will receive counseling on improving the home environment.

This is a most remarkable accomplishment and it has been done in a very short time. It would not be possible except for the willing and the enthusiastic cooperation of Americans throughout the country.

I believe this response reflects a realistic and a wholesome awakening in America. It shows that we are recognizing that poverty perpetuates itself.

Five- and six-year-old children are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators. Unless we act these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark.

In a guest column today, attorney Bruce E. L. M. Strothers recalls the role of Head Start in his own life.

By Bruce E.L.M Strothers

Head Start children surround President Johnson at his desk in the Oval Office. (Head Start)

Head Start children surround President Johnson at his desk in the Oval Office. (Head Start)

Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce the creation of Head Start, an innovative, community-driven early learning program that would provide comprehensive early childhood services to at-risk children and their families.

The fact is, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the life changing support Head Start provided my family.

In my earliest years of life, times were tough. My parents were just teenagers when I was born, and my mother raised my older sister, younger brother and me on her own. With three young children, my mother could not afford pre-school, and she struggled to balance single-parenthood and a steady job as a hospice care provider. So when she heard about a local Head Start program on the radio, she immediately enrolled me.

I am 44 now, but I still remember sitting cross legged in a semi-circle reading, counting, singing and playing memory games. Head Start was more than just pre-school— I received health and wellness screenings and immunizations, was fed nutritious meals, and had a safe and nurturing environment where I could learn and interact.

Having this early classroom experience ensured I had key school readiness skills, such as how to absorb and apply information, how to interact with teachers and classmates, and how to behave in a school setting.

By laying a foundation for a positive academic, social and emotional experience in Kindergarten, Head Start set the course for an equally positive, productive and engaging lifetime of learning. Head Start emphasizes a whole-child, whole-family approach that addresses every aspect of school readiness, ensuring children enter Kindergarten prepared to succeed. And succeed I did.

I excelled throughout my academic career— as an honor student, a varsity athlete and student body vice president. I graduated from Brown University, becoming the first in my family to earn a college degree. I went on to get my JD. I studied creative writing while practicing law, and later, earned my master’s of laws degree from Columbia Law School with honors.

Head Start instilled in me a lifelong love of learning which always motivated me to pay the entire costs of my education myself, which I have been fortunate to complete.

After serving as a hospice care provider for over four decades, my mom knows her middle child — not just Social Security— can help her in retirement. Had it not been for my early “head start” in school, I cannot help but think that the trajectory of my life could have turned out very differently.

Research proves Head Start works. Head Start children are better prepared for Kindergarten and less likely to need special education later in school. Children who attended Head Start are overall healthier— they have lower obesity rates, better nutrition, and are even less likely to smoke as adults.

Studies show that Head Start children have lower incarceration rates than their peers and are more likely to enroll in college.  Fifty years, 32 million lives changed— Head Start is something that our leaders in Washington can agree on.

So as we honor Head Start’s incredible legacy, we are renewing our commitment to creating opportunities for vulnerable children and propelling our great nation forward in the years to come.

 

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

The reason that Head Start's results seem minimal after 4th grade is not because of the perceived "failure" of the Head Start advantages given to young, kindergarten-age, disadvantaged children before they enter school to "catch them up" with their peers.  The reason that they do not continue to improve after 4th grade is because the delivery of instruction in elementary schools and beyond has not become sophisticated enough in the ways in which I have informed the public regarding the successful delivery of the continuous progress format of instruction for every student.  This format would ensure that every student is placed on his or her correct instructional level continuously and taught at his or her rate of advancement irrespective of his/her grade level. 


If public schools would adapt to this instructional change, also, in addition to Head Start, disadvantaged students would continue to improve until they graduate from high school after 12 or 13 years.


https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/continuous-progress-through-high-school/

popacorn
popacorn

On the bright side, we proved that even 180 billion dollars doesn't impress Nature one bit. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Oh good grief.  When I began school in the 60's, very few students attended Kindergarten - all of which were church run programs.  "Pre-school" was unheard of.  The vast majority of students in my area began school in the first grade.  [Hint:  it is called 1st grade for a reason.]  


But yet, we seem to have attained an education and became successful businessmen, doctors, engineers, teachers and accountants.  Others went to work as hourly labor.  I'm quite certain that some took full advantage of LBJ's Great Society and became social parasites, living off the largess of others.


In other words, life happened.  It's sorta pathetic to say that a government program "changed your life."

CTinMayretta
CTinMayretta

Without government programs, your username would be Jay_bookkeeper2.

C-ARM
C-ARM

@Lee_CPA2 I was in Head Start during its first year.  When I graduated with my M. Ed. (before my Ed.S., Ph. D.) my mother gave me a gift of my diploma from that first year class. I am now 54.  I remember learning the importance of the learning process.  In other words, 50 years later, I remember how I was taught that learning was important.  I remember hearing the teachers talk, things we did, and how balanced the program was.  Perhaps others did not fare as well as me.  I attended in Connecticut, and now live in Marietta.  Head Start did make a difference, one that I believe contributes to society.  Things that I learned were not academic.  They were life lessons. Wether you choose to believe it, or not, I in fact did learn the importance of life lessons, even at age 5.  So, for me, it mattered.  

CSpinks
CSpinks

QUESTION: Do any external evaluators audit the various Head Start programs throughout our state? Now, I'm not talking about internal audits performed at the state and federal levels. Surely the GA Department of Audits and Accounts as well as the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services perform them. I'm talking about "fresh eye" audits performed by competent people unconnected to any of the Head Start programs involved.


The kids and their families who are the intended beneficiaries of Head Start programs are too important for these programs not to be held to the highest standards of efficacy and efficiency.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

In my area of Appalachia, Head Start has given a lot of kids a fighting chance.  However, it is hard to undo generations of ignorance, and poverty, and not only poverty of money.  I shudder to think how bad things would be in this area if we had not had Head Start.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

To put it in perspective, we had VISTA workers here well into the 1970s.

TicTacs
TicTacs

We need an America that cares for all the people, not just some.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@Jefferson1776 Sounds good on the surface, but pretty easy to imagine that would be a horrible, Orwellian place to be. I'd prefer a place where all the people care for America.

bu2
bu2

It would help if he would link such studies.  There are also studies showing it makes no difference.


I know my sister enthusiastically volunteered to help in Head Start in the 60s and came out very disillusioned, thinking it was a total waste.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

With the creation of ALEC in 1973, the death of LBJ in the early 1970s, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, America changed its focus from lifting those in poverty and those disenfranchised in America toward the more self-oriented focus of accruing personal wealth. The social programs started by LBJ essentially ended approximately 35 years ago, or more.


There lately seems to be a moral energy in America toward re-establishing these invaluable social programs.  Head Start has been a blessing to many individuals as this writer explains, as well as a blessing to America in keeping her focused on her ideals for freedom for all.


One does not overcome the oppression of 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow laws in a mere 50 years.  One must think more historically, rather than in terms of oneself, alone.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings



The failure of Head Start has nothing to do with LBJ, Ronald Reagan, ALEC or Jim Crow. The fact is that even the government admits that it doesn't work- "the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole. Impacts at the end of kindergarten were scattered and are mentioned below only when they appear to be related to the 1st grade impacts."


It has failed to have any demonstrable impact under Republicans or Democrats.I'm glad to read the (anecdotal) story of Mr. Strothers here, but the program itself is a waste of money. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings That means that although the kids largely did not continue top perform at high levelsl, it does NOT say they did not benefit. Without their HS experience, they would have been starting school way behind.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


Study after study shows that whatever benefit there is to HS, it just doesn't last. I'm not opposed to the program in theory,but after $180 billion in spending, we need to show a better outcome for the resources used. And the idea that "it would have been worse for these kids without Head Start",well, that's just unknowable.

OldPhysicsTeacher
OldPhysicsTeacher

@Astropig @Wascatlady @MaryElizabethSings You guys know where I stand, but Astropig is dead-on here.  By 4th grade the "Head Start Advantage" is gone.  There are anecdotal stories of how Head Start changed people's lives, but there is no statistical evidence of success.  It goes back to two depressing statements: 1) Genetics is far more important than environment (if not, you could teach a horse to sing), and 2) parents are far more important than teachers.  I wish it were other than that, but facts are facts.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@OldPhysicsTeacher 


I must disagree with you on this point, OPT.  The reason that Head Start's results seem minimal after 4th grade is not because of the advantages given to young, kindergarten-age, disadvantaged children before they enter school to "catch them up" with their peers.  The reason that they do not continue to improve after 4th grade is because the delivery of instruction in elementary schools and beyond has not become sophisticated enough in the ways in which I have informed the public regarding the successful delivery of the continuous progress format of instruction for every student.  This format would ensure that every student is placed on his or her correct instructional level continuously and taught at his or her rate of advancement irrespective of his/her grade level. 


If public schools would adapt to this instructional change, also, in addition to Head Start, disadvantaged students would continue to improve until they graduate from high school after 12 or 13 years.


https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/continuous-progress-through-high-school/

Milhouse
Milhouse

Since Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty we have spent an estimated $22 trillion on welfare programs. While many people have received either benefits or employment through them—is the black family, for instance, better off now than in the 1960s? Are education results improved?

Many would answer "No!" to both these questions, and place the blame on programs which measure effectiveness merely on totals spent rather than goals achieved.

Milhouse
Milhouse

@druidhills 

Speaking of statistics, do you have a link to back up your claim on drug war spending?

druidhills
druidhills

@Milhouse How much money have we spent on the "War on Drugs"? Probably just as much. Where has that got us? 


And to your question I think the answer is Yes!. Try looking up some statistics.  

PJ25
PJ25

@druidhills @Milhouse Lets see, it's 2015 and 90% of black children will eat from Food Stamps at some point before they turn 18.

Epic fail.  

straker
straker

And yet, 50 years later, many "African-Americans" still blame poverty for the repeated failure of Black students overall to score on tests at the same level as White ones.