The White House honored 11 Head Start Champions of Change earlier this week, including Educare Arizona Early Head Start teacher Angelica Vilaverda and Executive Director of Tulsa Educare Caren Calhoun, as part of a weekly event series that recognizes the extraordinary work of seemingly normal citizens. First Five Years Fund Director of Policy and Government Relations K. Shiek Pal attended the forum and shared his thoughts on the people he met and the power of the Head Start program:
The Champions of Change Head Start event was an amazing opportunity to meet an inspiring group of men and women who have done so much to advance early learning in this country. Hearing Head Start parents, teachers and former students describe the tremendous impact that Head Start has had on their lives and careers brought a personal poignancy to the event.
It was especially moving to hear Dr. T. Berry Brazelton comment on the progress he has seen over his 94 years, but also acknowledge the work that remains to be done to advance and share the scientific research on children’s brain development as it relates to future success. Dr. Brazelton noted the bipartisan vision for Head Start that has reached a peak in its enrollment under President Obama, and this reinforced FFYF’s experience of working with allies from both sides of the aisle in our daily efforts to increase federal funding for early learning. He also laid out the fundamental idea supporting the work of FFYF: “Neuroscience tells us that the highest return on investment is when the brain is growing fastest – in the first years of life.” One of my earliest exposures to early education policy was reading one of Dr. Brazelton’s books in graduate school, so I was thrilled to meet him and applaud his lifetime of contributions to the field.
I was also especially touched by another speaker, Dr. Rory Sipp, who spoke eloquently about his engagement with Head Start as a young adult. A Head Start student as a child, he returned to obtain his C.D.A., A.A., B.A., M.A., and eventually, his Ph.D., with the support of the Head Start network. Dr. Sipp now serves as the Executive Director of the Acelero Learning Head Start Program in Las Vegas. Numerous speakers commented that once someone is part of the Head Start network, they remain so for life. Head Start helps at-risk kids develop the cognitive and character skills they need for a life of learning and success—and Dr. Sipp is one powerful example of the long-term impact of the program.
For me, this event was a great reminder that although we often speak in terms of investments and long-term returns, the actual impact of Head Start on a person, a family, or a community often exceeds all quantifiable measures. Head Start changes lives, simply put. All of the people on that stage who were honored for their dedication and contribution to America through their work with Head Start have also been personally enriched by the program – which is what keeps them connected, even after their children are no longer students, or they themselves have graduated and gone on to later success in life, or even in the case of Dr. Brazelton, who has dedicated most of his long and wondrous life to building this great program and expanding its reach to as many children as possible. As he himself said, there is so much more to do.