Head Start Classes Will Be Extended In 65 Locations
Detroit--Declaring Head Start part of the Reagan Administration's "social safety net," Secretary of Health and Human Services (hhs) Richard S. Schweiker announced plans to convert all summer Head Start programs to full-time status.
Mr. Schweiker's April 15 announcement came as 5,000 educators and parent activists gathered in Detroit for the ninth annual National Head Start Association training conference.
Existing Programs Affected
The conversion will affect 65 existing summer-only Head Start programs nationwide. Over the next two years, Secretary Schweiker said, the eight-week programs will grow into eight-month programs running from September through April, giving Head Start about 1,260 full-time programs nationwide.
"Head Start is an integral part of this ad-ministration's social safety net," Mr. Schweiker said. In a release read to the educators meeting in Detroit, he added: "It has long been recognized that Head Start programs of six to eight weeks are too brief to produce lasting developmental gains for participants."
The hhs announcement drew cheers from Head Start officials who are witnessing growth in their preschool-education program during a time of widespread federal budget-cutting. The Head Start budget increased from $819 million last year to Continued on Page XX
$912 million this year. President Reagan, through Secretary Schweiker, has guaranteed that there will be no cuts in the program in fiscal 1983.
Head Start officials are not certain why their budget is growing at a time when most other education and social-service programs are being cut.
"All I can figure is that we have proven we have something that delivers," said John Reese of South Bend, Ind., president of the National Head Start Association. "This is not to criticize other programs, but we know we work."
Indeed, Head Start has been drawing positive reviews since it started in 1965 as a catch-up program for preschoolers from low-income, disadvantaged families.
Since then, eight million children have gone through Head Start. Currently, there are 380,000 preschoolers enrolled in programs ranging from academic subjects to nutrition, from health care to race relations.
Head Start officials present ample evidence of success. At the Detroit conference, they released results of a 14-year study conducted in Rome, Ga. The study tracked 94 Head Start children and 60 disadvantaged children not involved in Head Start. It found that half of the Head Start students eventually graduated from high school, compared to one-third of the other children. Five of the Head Start students wound up among the top 20 students in their graduating class, compared to none of the students not in Head Start.
"The program works because it serves low-income families--and I emphasize families," said Henlay Foster, director of National Project Head Start, the federal agency administering the programs. "We realized long ago that the only way to make this program work is to get parents involved. Sometimes that creates more headaches, but in the long run it works."
The involvement of parents was obvious in Detroit, where several sessions designed to help them become better teachers of their children were well-attended.
"Children are always getting into trouble for how they handle their feelings," said Elizabeth Crary, a faculty member from North Seattle (Wash.) Community College who specializes in such training. She explained that youngsters need words to describe those feelings and skills to deal with them. Involved parents, she said, can be their best teachers.
Claudius G. Britt, director of the 4,500-student Detroit Head Start program--the nation's second largest, after Chicago--boasts that for every three children enrolled in the program, at least two parents are involved.
One is Ronald Johnson, whose 4-year-old daughter is in a Head Start program in an inner-city school. Mr. Johnson, who has a night job, volunteers about 10 hours a month at the school.
"When I help the children draw or read or color, I realize how much they must learn before kindergarten," he said. "My daughter learned the alphabet here, and I helped."
Despite the generally upbeat mood at the Detroit conference, however, Head Start officials still have major concerns. By Mr. Foster's estimate, Head Start is now able to reach only 18 percent of the children eligible for its programs. But expansion appears unlikely in the near future, he said.
Head Start officials are also worried about the possiblity that their program will be included among others being switched to block-grant funding. According to Mr. Foster, David A. Stockman, the Administration's budget director, proposed shifting Head Start into block-grant status over the next four years. Mr. Foster said Secretary Schweiker discouraged President Reagan from making such a move, and the President reiterated support for Head Start during his most recent State of the Union address.
"I don't know that you could call our future rosy," said Mr. Reese, "but when we look at other social programs and where they are going, we have to believe we are doing just great."
Vol. 01, Issue 31