Students in the collaborative Head Start / SPS class

Strong family supports and a robust curriculum

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced the development of a new program to serve children and families in need as part of the War on Poverty. The Settlement Houses at the turn of the century paved the way for innovation in early childhood education and the promise that quality care could support healthy growth and development and assimilate new immigrants into American culture and the workforce. The advent of the Head Start initiative was among the first federally funded, large-scale efforts to support families through education and comprehensive services.

Head Start continues to lead the way nationally, serving over 30 million children since 1965, with wraparound services that help families mediate risk factors that hinder healthy growth and development for children and bridge the achievement gap. In Somerville Massachusetts, we are fortunate to collaborate with the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS). They are leaders in nutrition, culturally responsive teaching, and addressing the needs of children with disabilities. They provide screening, educate teachers and families about social emotional well being, provide home visiting, and support children’s transition to public school programs. 

In Somerville some of our key goals are to ensure that every child is ready for school, that families are ready to support learning, and that schools are ready for children. In 2014 Somerville Public Schools added a preschool classroom at the Healey School that is collaboration between Head Start and the district preschool program. A Somerville Public School teacher and a Head Start teacher partner to provide a strong curriculum that draws from the strengths of both programs and incorporates the family engagement work of CAAS. Children receive home visits, the program is supported by a family advocate, and Community Schools (SPS afterschool programming) program provides an extended day at no cost to income eligible families. 

In 2015 we made a short film about this program that illustrates the strength of family engagement and high quality programming.  Children are learning, growing, and engaging in interesting curriculum that meets the diverse needs of young children. It is an innovative model for early childhood education where districts and center-based programming can join forces to meet children’s needs through play, family engagement, and multi-tiered support systems. We are proud of this collaboration and this year we also launched the Head Start at the Capuano program – Head Start teachers working in a public school with guaranteed extended day for families who need it. We know these programs are paving the way for future collaborations with providers in the community  and we value the hard work that the teachers in these classrooms are doing to serve children, families, and the community at large. When we learn from Head Start, we learn more about ourselves and the population we serve.

Dr. Lisa Kuh, Former Director of Early Education
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