Donning their new backpacks and fresh sneakers, students at Harris County Department of Education Head Start campuses waved goodbye to their parents and guardians as the first day of school ushered in the end of a long, hot summer.
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“I’m excited for our students because some are embarking on their first formal steps into a structured learning environment,” said Baytown Head Start center manager Courtney Johnson as she welcomed families on Monday. “It’s a joy to see their academic progress start emerging today and then reach mastery by the end of the school year.”
HCDE’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs support children’s growth from birth to age 5 through services centered around early learning and development, health, and family well-being. Students in the programs follow the Frog Street Press curriculum, which promotes school readiness for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low-income families. Annually, HCDE serves more than 1,200 eligible infants to five-year-olds at 15 Head Start campuses and five childcare partner sites in north and east Harris County. The program is dedicated to preparing students for a smooth transition to kindergarten.
Upon entering classrooms, Head Start students were greeted by their new teachers, who tasked them with storing their belongings in cubby shelves before washing their hands for a nutritious breakfast. Healthy meals are one of the program’s cornerstones and are provided daily at all campuses.
To support campus staff on the first day of school, Senior Director Venetia Peacock visited the Baytown Head Start center, which also houses an Early Head Start program.
Learning experiences in both the Early Head Start and Head Start programs support students’ intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Peacock jumped into action to provide love and attention to several students after “see-you-laters” from their parents.
“The work our team does is critical,” Peacock said as she soothed a student. “If we provide the right experiences at this age, then all the other academic and social successes will have stemmed from this classroom.”
At the entrance of the building on Monday, two-year-old twins Johmar and Jamel Monroe struggled to stay awake as mom Quinnesha Monroe dropped them off. The young mom says she is impressed by her sons’ progress and excited for another year of learning.
“My older children were in a Head Start program, but this is my first experience with Early Head Start, and I could not be more pleased,” Monroe said of her twins, who first enrolled at the Baytown campus last year. “Johmar walks around singing his ABCs. Jamel will count his numbers all day. They both demonstrate signs of social development, and I’m grateful to have a safe space where they can learn and grow together.”
This year, the division’s efforts to support families holistically will be a continued priority. Head Start Family Services Staff at each campus will work to identify parents who may benefit from English as a Second Language (ESL) courses or a High School Equivalency (HSE, formerly known as GED) certification. Those parents will be offered enrollment in HCDE’s free Adult Education programs to advance their English skills and career opportunities.
The division will also emphasize the importance of parental involvement on campus and, more importantly, at home. On the first day of school, campus leaders distributed school-to-home calendars to students to provide families with activities that support the classroom curriculum.
“Our goal is to set a strong foundation for our students and maximize their potential,” Peacock said. “These programs will help engage parents, get them back on campus to volunteer, and be involved as mentors, not only for their child, but all HCDE students.”
To learn more about HCDE Head Start or enroll your child in our program, visit hcde-texas.org/head-start.