By Al Stabilito, MYCAP’s Director of Communications and Outreach

Many Community Action Agencies offer Head Start pre-school programs, knowing that early childhood education helps to combat poverty. Also started as part of the War on Poverty, Head Start provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.

The Mahoning Youngstown Community Action Partnership’s (MYCAP)

Head Start program has shown how it truly benefits children and gives them a head start in life. One shining example is Clemente Rodriguez who attended MYCAP’s Head Start program in 2004 at the age of four. Today Clemente is attending Rayen’s Early College and has more academic achievements at his young age than most people attain in a lifetime. For instance, during the 2012-13 school year he received eight awards, seven medals, and four plaques for his outstanding academic performance. This was everything from High Honors, to Perfect Attendance, to Straight A’s on his report card, and other impressive scholastic accomplishments. His grade point average the past year was a perfect 4.0 and it has never dipped below 3.8 since he started school.

Clemente’s parents, Carlos and Vivian Rodriguez, couldn’t be happier with how Head Start helped him become a successful student and person. “We wanted to instill at an early age the importance of developing academic skills and learning how to interact and socialize with other children,” Carlos stated.

“Since he is our only child, we knew it was necessary to have him around other children in a safe, comfortable setting where he could learn, but also have the chance to have fun too,” Vivian added.
“We were happy it gave Clemente an opportunity to play and learn with children that were his age.”

Even though he was a young child when he attended Head Start, Clemente believes the activities and skills that were taught back then inspired him to blossom today. “I was pretty young, but I remember that I was able to meet a bunch of other kids and together we learned and played together,” Clemente said.  “I looked forward to going to school. I still love school and my parents made the right choice by enrolling me. I’m glad I had a chance to attend and got started early before I went to kindergarten.”

Vivian and Carlos have three large photo albums complete with Clemente’s academic achievements since his first year in Head Start. Those achievements are strictly academic honors, not athletic.

“We knew when Clemente was young the impact that early education had on children. Head Start taught Clemente writing, math, spelling, how to use computers, and how to relate with other children in a positive way,” Carlos said.

Numerous studies have confirmed time and again that a child’s learning begins at birth. For children living in poverty, quality pre-kindergarten education, provided by Head Start/Early Head Start, is crucial in establishing life-long healthy patterns and development. Because experiences between birth and age five shape a child for life, the quality of the child’s environment, social interactions and learning experiences during those years is critical.

Head Start emphasizes the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. Parents are urged to take part in the classroom as a volunteer, help with classroom projects, and even help develop the curriculum. Parents are the primary educators of their children and must be directly involved in the program. The well-being of children is linked to the well-being of the entire family.

“Some families think that teachers are the only ones responsible for teaching children and fail to get involved in their children’s education. With Head Start, parents are encouraged to participate so that their children can excel and succeed. Head Start makes it a priority so it’s the entire family, not just educators who are involved,” added Vivian.

Furthermore, Head Start provides a comprehensive program of health services to each child by promoting preventative health and early intervention. Families are provided skills, insights and information needed to obtain ongoing health care.

There is no doubt that Head Start/Early Head Start provides comprehensive services to children to increase school readiness. For those who question whether the program is beneficial, ask the Rodriguez family. They know it works, and it works well. Clemente is proof that success starts early in life in the classroom – of course, it was a Head Start classroom.

For more information about Community Action programs in your area, visit www.oacaa.org. Note, not all Community Action Agencies offer these programs.
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