50-Year-Anniversary of Head Start

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Head Start is turning 50 this year. Head Start provides school readiness, education, health, nutrition, and family services to poverty-level children and their families. Jonathon Adam Gonzales of the Arizona Head Start Association will talk about Head Start and results it has provided over the past 50 years.

Ted Simons: The Head Start program is turning 50 this year. Head Start began as part of president Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty and continues to provide a variety of services to poverty-level children and their families. Jonathon Adam Gonzalez is director of the Arizona Head Start Association. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of head start.

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Head Start is a comprehensive early learning and education program. What our grantees do is provide classroom-based preschool settings that are high-quality, that engage parents in parenting practices but also track children's health outcomes, as well. We do things like literacy events and activities outside of the classroom, as well.

Ted Simons: So are you talking basically poverty-level kids under the age of five?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: It's a good question. We have a variety of options for families. It's 130, 135% of federal poverty but that's not the only guidelines we have for families. If they have a child with a developmental delay or who may qualify for special education, we're mandated by federal law to serve the 10% of our enrolled children who may have a qualifying disability so it's a really case-by-case basis. We tell families to bring you into our enrollment offices, take you through the application process and see if you qualify.

Ted Simons: How associated or independent from school districts are you?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Highly associated. Not all sites are connected to a school district site or local school districts that folks may know but some of them are. But we do bridge those instances where we're not in communities where they're integrated in a school district by partnering with the local department of -- through the department of education and those local districts through what's called the equip teams. The equip teams are based out of the school districts and then we tried to bridge families so that kids can flow right into kindergarten.

Ted Simons: So what happens at a head start center?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Everything. Everything fun. I was a former head start parent. Both my kids, now 19 and 17, went through head start. Everything from -- like I've discussed, early education experiences, you know, playing in the classroom, parent literacy nights, follow-up on wellness and wellness checks or healthcare screenings, you name it, Head Start's been doing it for 50 years, doing it well.

Ted Simons: And these centers aren't necessarily at schools.

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: They can be faith-based organizations, nonprofit locations but typically, we try to find places, each grantee does, to make sure they're well situated where we'll have the most impact and the most need.

Ted Simons: How is head start funded?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Funding is title funding through the federal government. Like you discussed in your opening, since 1964 when Linden Johnson passed the acts to begin the war on poverty, it's been funded through reauthorization acts through the federal government.

Ted Simons: And with these reauthorization acts, there's concern, especially of late it seems like there's more conversation, how do we know that head start works?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: There was a recent study, you have heard in the past probably fade away effect and those kinds of things, you know, I used to work with another state organization, first things first around brain science and we had a lot of brain science debunk all those myths around fade away and what we found through the recent studies through head start and the office of research and evaluation, they did almost a 10-year study, since 2002, over 5,000 children and they found huge impacts in terms of literacy, social and emotional development. Social and emotional development is the simple things, being able to engage in the classroom, imagine being three or four years old and this may be your first social experience. How do you get along with other kids? We measure those things. We have the tools to be able to say we're having an impact.

Ted Simons: And we should mention that fade away effect has been talked about quite a bit, the idea being that yes, this is great for prekindergarten and maybe good for kindergarten, probably pretty good for first grade but by second, third and fourth, it fades away, you're saying studies are showing that doesn't happen.

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: It doesn't happen but it's also -- you also have to have the infrastructure and supports at your local school districts and the funding. We heard in the previous segment with your previous guests that we have to make sure that we have ongoing funding support, children's education. So that doesn't happen.

Ted Simons: So in order to keep again this funding because right now, funding is the major topic for everyone, everywhere. So someone says this is fine but how do you make up for bad parenting? Even head start can't do that, can it?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: What we do through head start is engage parents. It's part of the outcome that's required of the federal act, around head start, which really has what we call parent and family engagement component and what that component says is parents have to be involved at a certain level to continue to be participating in the program. So things like I discussed, parent education nights, literacy components and talks to families and engages families in a way that shows them various parenting techniques, I'll give an example. I was a teen dad, I used to talk to my children standing up. If you get on your knee and talk to your children eye to eye, it's very simple and it will change their behavior and outcome of how they react to you. So I think that what people don't understand is it teaches, it's a holistic approach to how we engage families and work with families.

Ted Simons: And last question, has that approach changed over the years?

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Oh, definitely. I think that in the 50 years of head start, there was a recent case study that was called a two parent approach. And that two parent approach or two pronged approach that the foundation put out there looked at ways that families on a multigenerational level engage with their children, lifetime learners, right? And what we found from that study is Head Start has been doing that for many years, 1965. And how they've changed is they've done it -- they've found ways to improve on those things.

Ted Simons: All right. Well, very good. It's good to have you here, happy 50th anniversary I guess to head start and thank you so much for joining us. For sure.

Jonathon Adam Gonzalez: Thank you.

Jonathon Adam Gonzales:Arizona Head Start Association;

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