Opinion: Head Start supports children and empowers parents
“What a perfect boy. He weighed four pounds and was five weeks early. Kaleb and Mary taught me to go with the flow. I am not going to be a perfect parent but I can learn how to teach my son, now.”
Jennifer McSweeney is a Head Start Parent and volunteers her time as a member of Policy Council. Mary Fiorini is a Head Start Teacher and a Home Visitor. She has been with Head Start for 26 years. Each week for an hour and a half Mary visited Jennifer and her son Kaleb in their home.
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” — Fred Rogers
Kaleb had a significant speech delay. Jennifer has OCD. Mary gave Jennifer reading material with suggestions on how she could spend time with her son to improve his ability to speak. “Mary showed me that his delays are not who he is. She said, ‘Don’t treat him differently.” The encouragement that Mary gave Jennifer was a life lesson to be a teacher in her home. Mary sparked her imagination and showed Jennifer how life could be different when she entered into it with Kaleb.
Jennifer and Kaleb worked, played and spoke with each other each day. Each week they crossed off the days on the calendar until it was time for Mary to come again.
Mary recognized leadership abilities in Jennifer that she did not see in herself. She suggested that Jennifer run for a position in Head Start’s Policy Council. Each Local Parent Committee elects one parent delegate to serve on the Council. Policy Council has a role in development, review and approval of Head Start issues. It is part of the governance structure that includes the Board of Directors, Executive Director and Head Start Director. Jennifer became a Council Member and gives to our community in new ways.
“At Policy Council we look at important issues that touch our children. Yes, there is preparation for school but we also look at children’s need for dental services, immunizations, the importance of reading to our children and other parenting skills.”
Now as Kaleb starts kindergarten and takes the bus all by himself, Jennifer takes on another role. She is an advocate for her son.
Head Start gives children the extra support they need to be ready for the future. It is also one of the best leadership training programs for parents. Home is the optimum place to train children and parents can be their most skilled teachers, sometimes with a little help.
“Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.” — Fred Rogers
Jennifer and Mary are leaving a glorious pattern.
Jan F. Demers is the executive director of CVOEO.
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