Teaching Assistant Tawana Jackson embodies the ‘Heart of Head Start’

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June 2, 2022 by HCDE-Texas

Looking back on a nearly 22-year career, Sheffield Head Start Teaching Assistant Tawana Jackson says she wouldn’t change anything.

“I am an educator eager for my children to learn,” she said. “Learning starts at home, but when you come to Head Start, that’s where it really begins.”

Jackson began her career as a Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Head Start teaching assistant in August 2000 after working at the Cathedral House Montessori School in Houston. Since then, she has served students and families through Head Start’s Compton, Coolwood, and Sheffield campuses.

Tawana Jackson (center) poses with Head Start students.

As a teaching assistant, Jackson supports the teachers she works with by communicating with parents, filing paperwork, establishing a classroom structure, assisting with lesson planning and daily activities, and assuming the lead when the teacher is absent.

Head Start Education Services Coordinator Patricia Kuskos has worked closely with Jackson for nearly eight years, observing her interactions with children in the classroom and providing support through strategies. Kuskos says Jackson’s passion for her job, nurturing spirit, and dedication to building relationships with families embodies the “heart of Head Start.”

“If you were to go into any classroom that she works in, you can’t tell who the teacher or teaching assistant is because they work so well together,” said Kuskos. “They’ve got systems and routines in place, and students are familiar with the expectations. It’s a model experience of what teaching staff could be.”

Tawana Jackson leads Head Start students during a classroom activity.

Valerie Stephens, who has known Jackson for eight years and was her center manager during their time at Coolwood, paints an image of an individual who teaches by example and puts the needs of her students, families, and colleagues first.

“When she sees a need, she goes out of her way to help someone,” she said. “She’s very dedicated to the children and families we serve in the program.”

Jackson’s two decades in early childhood education have made her knowledgeable and capable of working with any child that needs individual attention, says Stephens.

She recalls the first time she worked with an autistic student while she was the lead instructor in the classroom.

“He could barely hold a pencil when he started, and he really struggled in the classroom setting,” she said. “He needed structure. His mom had doubts, but he could write his name by the end of his first year, and he learned the alphabet in the second.”

Tawana Jackson reads to Head Start students.

The boy is now in the second grade at Robinson Elementary School in Houston Independent School District, but his mom continued to send pictures to Jackson for years.

The chance to build lasting connections with families is one of the many things Jackson is grateful for about her job. Among others, she lists Head Start’s assistance in obtaining her Child Development Associate (CDA) certification, the support of her colleagues, and the challenge of working with preschoolers.

“I love that challenge,” she said. “I love my job so much that I don’t have to be there until seven, and I show up at six-thirty. It’s been a blessing, and I’m proud to be the teacher assistant I am today.”

To learn more about and enroll your children in HCDE Head Start and Early Head Start programs, visit www.hcde-texas.org/headstart.

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