Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1965: Head Start starts

Head Start is a US Government program that focuses on assisting children from low-income families. Created in 1965, it has helped more than 24 million children develop social and learning skills needed to start school, and also provides health, nutrition, and parent involvement services.

It is the longest-running program for stopping the cycle of poverty in the US. The $6.8+ billion dollar budget for 2005 provided services to more than 905,000 children, 57% of whom were four years old or older, and 43% three years old or younger. Services were provided by 1,604 different programs operating more than 48,000 classrooms across every state at an average cost of $7,222 per child. The paid staff of nearly 212,000 people is dwarfed by an army of volunteers six times as large.

Head Start was started as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. A key part of the Great Society domestic agenda, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 authorized programs to help meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool children. A panel of child development experts drew up this program at the request of the Federal Government, and the program became Project Head Start.

The Office of Economic Opportunity launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program in 1965. The project was designed to help end poverty by providing preschool children from low-income families with a program that would meet emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs.

Head Start was then transferred to the Office of Child Development in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later the Department of Health and Human Services)in 1969. Today it is a program within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the HHS. Programs are administered locally by non-profit organizations and local agencies such as school systems.

Head Start's record of success, and research showing the importance of learning in the early years, have spawned a popular movement to provide quality preschool to all four-year-olds regardless of family income. Universal pre-kindergarten is a staple of the current presidential campaign, and states across the country are looking to increase early-childhood classes. (info from Washington Post & Wikipedia; photo from Youth Development, Inc. -- a service organization in New Mexico.)

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