Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Head Start has been the subject of lots of academic studies. But now advocates are pointing to a different kind of evidence of success: the millions of adults who were enrolled in Head Start as children.

Collecting and sharing these stories should give the country a personal look at one of its most sweeping social program.

“In 1965, our nation made a commitment to open a window of opportunity for at risk children – Head Start. In the 48 years since, nearly 28 million Americans have attended Head Start,” the National Head Start Association (NHSA) writes on its website.

“Head Start alumni have gone on to become business owners and artists, musicians and doctors, teachers, members of Congress, and exceptional parents to their own children. Those who have been touched by this program know the reality of how a Head Start in life leads to success,” the website adds, offering alumni the chance to register. “If you are an alum or your child attended Head Start, join us in a national campaign to encourage all former Head Start children and parents to identify themselves.”

Individual Stories

“My life can be summed up in the words ‘wasn’t supposed to,’” Chuck Mills told the Washington Post. “I wasn’t supposed to get out of my neighborhood. Wasn’t supposed to go to Annapolis. Wasn’t supposed to work on Wall Street, and wasn’t supposed to be married for 25 years and have three great children.”

“In 1966, his mother enrolled him in one of the first Head Start programs after seeing a flier at church,” the Post article says. “For two years — first in St. Louis, then in Shreveport, La. — Mills said he gained a solid base in reading and numbers and a love of learning. When his family moved to Joliet, Ill., the next year, he was able to skip kindergarten and begin his new school in the first grade.”

Mills and other Head Start alums are also featured at Our Head Start, a project sponsored by the First Five Years Fund.

Head Start alum Annmarie Lanesey wrote about her childhood experience in the Troy Record. “After a difficult separation from my father, my mother was alone raising two children. While she made best efforts to maintain a stable, loving home, she didn’t have the resources to keep us out of poverty… With my brother enrolled in kindergarten, my mother registered at Hudson Valley Community College. Despite our struggles, Head Start afforded my entire family with the flexibility to pursue their own educational growth and path out of poverty.”

Lanesey and other Head Start alums are featured in the NHSA’s collection of videos.

Opportunities for Advocacy

Head Start graduates who want to send their message of support to the nation’s leaders can use the NHSA’s 27 Million Windows website, which advocates for protecting the “window of opportunity” that Head Start offers children.

Head Start alums can write their stories or post videos of themselves telling their stories at Our Head Start’s Share Your Story web page. “Why Share your Story?” the website asks. “We need your story to share with elected officials who decide the fate and funding of Head Start. Help show that your Head Start was everyone’s head start on building a better America.”