October 19, 2023 by HCDE Communications
Experience is key. For Venetia Peacock, the senior director of Harris County Department of Education’s Head Start division, the journey to leadership was paved as a Head Start student herself.
Every October, Head Start Awareness Month draws attention to the opportunities and high-quality services that make the program a leader in early childhood education.
When talking about the celebration this month, Peacock reflected on how her experience in the program instilled a profound understanding of the program’s potential to shape lives and equipped her with the tools crucial for professional achievement.
“I remember going to Head Start because I remember Ms. Scott, my first teacher,” said Peacock. “I remember how she made me feel. I felt welcomed and like she wanted me to be there. It was fun, and I felt like I was learning things. I also remember that’s when we started going to the dentist.”
Raised in a tight-knit family in East Texas, Peacock’s parents set a clear expectation for their children to aim for success.
“My husband only finished 11th grade, and I finished the 12th grade,” said Peacock’s 89-year-old mother, Theresa. “I was prepared to go to college but was the oldest at home. My father and mother were sick, so I had to work instead of continuing my education. We wanted our kids to exceed what we did.”
Venetia didn’t seem to need the expectation as her love of education was evident from an early age.
“I had sisters, so we played teacher at home,” she said. Theresa also remembers the classroom-inspired playtime.
“Venetia was always the teacher!” quipped Theresa. “Her friends would come by, and she would make them sit down, and she would teach. Her siblings felt like she was pushing them, but I think she was pushing herself. I always thought she would be a teacher.”
Venetia’s early years in the program were foundational, providing an educational springboard and fostering resilience and ambition that would echo throughout her career.
“I remember liking school and being very happy to go, except when I started working on my bachelor’s,” laughed Venetia. “I love learning new things. I grew up with my face in a book. I do believe that being read to at Head Start and home fostered my love of reading. With what I understand now about brain development, I’m certain that the early exposure I got at Head Start to the classroom and to children who were different than me fed my curiosity and made me want to learn more.”
Though the term hadn’t been coined at the time, Head Start also instilled her with social and emotional learning skills that would carry her throughout her life.
“I think there’s a lot to be said about feeling safe, nurtured, and supported at home and Head Start,” she said. “It allowed me to be free to learn without all the noise. I feel like that has a lot to do with why I feel like I got such a good head start and why I was able to be really resilient with some of the things that happened later in life.”
One of those pivotal moments was the untimely death of her brother, who passed just a few short months after starting his first year of college. After his death, Venetia was emboldened to do what her brother couldn’t: get a college degree. However, her mother, Theresa, recalls Venetia’s laser-like focus and desire to attend college to become “someone” was always evident.
“She’s been planning to go to college ever since she started school, come hell or high water,” said the elder Peacock. “There wasn’t anything that was going to keep her from going.”
Though she became the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, Venetia didn’t intend to go into early childhood education and initially attended the University of Houston to obtain a degree in computer science.
“I struggled with the advanced math classes,” she said. “Eventually, opportunity and time came together for me. I was destined to work in Head Start because I always loved being around young children.”
Now at the helm of one of four Head Start programs in the third largest county in America, she channels her own transformative experience to drive initiatives that empower a new generation. She embodies the living testament of Head Start’s enduring impact.
“Head Start Awareness Month is important because it is still a well-keep secret,” said Venetia. “I think people don’t understand how focused we are on school readiness and supporting families, and it’s important to celebrate success stories.”
Her unique perspective has become a guiding force in her dedication to enhancing the program, affirming that success, for both the students and herself, truly does start with Head Start.
“I am definitely proud to be a product of Head Start,” said Venetia. “I want what has happened to me in my life to happen to every other Head Start student. I hope their engagement with this program has propelled them to make a good life for themselves.”
To learn more about HCDE Head Start, visit hcde-texas.org/head-start.