The national program, originally known as “Project Head Start,” began in 1965 as an eight-week summer program. The Office of Economic Opportunity designed it “to help break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs and support the families in improving their lives.” The plan was to serve “a few thousand” children across the nation. More than 561,000 children showed up.
The initiative has grown to more than one million children and their families, and there is increasing demand for highly skilled, well-trained and passionate leaders to keep the program alive and thriving. Earning a Master of Science in Early Childhood Services may be the first step you take in becoming part of this world-class educational program for children of all backgrounds at the national, regional or local level.
At the National Level
The National Head Start Association (NSHA) works to design and offer useful and timely programs for children and families living in all areas of the country. Here are two of the current initiatives:
- The Real Risk of Lead — “Routine screenings and treatment, strong early learning opportunities with individualized supports, and proper nutrition are all part of catching lead exposure early and intervening to put children on a strong trajectory for the future.”
- National Reading Month — Participating in National Reading Month helps “build community and self-awareness within children.”
These and many other programs are designed to bring families together and make a better world for them and their communities. And these programs are made possible only when dedicated leaders work together, sometimes at the national level, to make sure they succeed.
In addition to programs that teach and encourage child and family learning, the NHSA conducts studies to determine how to best serve families and communities. The Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Study will “provide programs with useful information to both enhance engagement with families and support ongoing program evaluation activities.” Designing and implementing studies of this magnitude requires people who are well-trained and knowledgeable about early-childhood education, family dynamics and community involvement — all elements included in the online master’s degree program in early childhood services at Arkansas State University.
At the Local and Regional Level
Leaders of programs at the local and regional levels must be tuned into the communities they serve directly and be ready to offer hands-on assistance to families in need. These Head Start workers manage logistics of the state and local offices and determine how finances are to be most efficiently used. They work in neighborhoods to determine the most urgent needs and then advocate for programs and policies to meet those needs.
In addition, state offices are often involved in determining the expected educational outcomes for the children they support. For example, when the Arkansas Child Development and Early Learning Standards document was written, a committee of stakeholders was gathered. It included state agency staff, the higher education community, early childhood advocates, practitioners and the state’s early childhood experts. Of the twenty committee members, three were on the Arkansas Head Start staff.
Preparing for Leadership
As a leader at the state or local level of Head Start, you must be able to do the following:
- Understand child development.
- Have the ability to collaborate with other agencies, communities and families.
- Know how to manage childcare and preschool facilities, hire and train staff, and make sound fiscal decisions.
Earning a Master of Science in Early Childhood Services online will prepare you with these very skills — what you need to be a successful Head Start leader. It will also give you the privilege of being a part of fulfilling the motto of Arkansas Head Start: “Children Today, Leaders Tomorrow.”
Learn more about the A-State online Master of Science in Early Childhood Services program.