Head Start, a national pre-kindergarten program that provides free-of-cost child care to low-income families, was another program on the chopping block for elimination in the proposed national budget.
The budget proposal passed in the Republican-controlled Congress, but was voted down in the Senate. If the bill were to return to the House in any form, it would affect at least 20 Head Start locations currently operating in Bed-Stuy.
What makes Head Start’s program unique, apart from its lack of fees, is that it is the only early childcare program that will not turn away children who have special needs, explained Marcia Callendar.
Ms. Callendar has worked for Head Start in a variety of positions for twenty years and is now the Program Director of Bed-Stuy’s Bridge Street Child Development Head Start.
She said that Head Start is built on the philosophy that, in order to learn, children need to be nurtured, their parents need to be empowered, and the community needs to change.
Head Start programs provide a place where young children not only develop their reading and math abilities, but also receive three balanced meals per day, and are encouraged to express their emotions and deal with their anxieties in a comforting environment.
But Head Start contributes to the community in broader ways, Ms. Callendar elaborated. The teachers and staff are constantly working to empower parents by recognizing their importance as role models for their children, regardless of whether they are educated or have troubled pasts.
For parents facing crises, Head Start offers mental health services, including referrals to social services within the community to address problems like drug addiction and domestic abuse.
And furthermore, program staff make it known that they are “holding the community accountable for our children,” said Ms. Callendar.
Food is a big issue in Bed-Stuy, which is known as a “food desert” for the lack of nutritious products in its bodegas. Head Start serves children healthy options such as low-fat milk, and by purchasing these products locally, they encourage bodegas to keep them stocked.
The style of pedagogy that Head Start uses is hands-on, designed to appeal to a variety of learning styles. Teachers help students learn to count during family-style meals where children measure out spoonfuls and cups of food.
The wonders of words are pointed out not only during reading lessons, but also on neighborhood walks where children learn the meanings of signs. As a result, children leave Head Start programs and enter kindergarten ready to read.
However, she feels that public schools fail to maintain the high level of attention the children receive in Head Start programs, which may end of reversing much of the progress made in their earlier years.
But Ms. Callendar expressed concern that the proposed funding cuts reflect a deep misunderstanding of urban education and social problems on behalf of the government.
“The Bush administration spent millions on surveys to prove that Head Start didn’t work,” said Callendar. “But then it turns out, it’s not only meeting goals, but exceeding them.”