by David Webster, director of Opportunity Council Early Learning and Family Services
Just as President Lynden B. Johnson’s signature on the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 created Community Action Agencies, like Opportunity Council, it also created a landmark “social development” program known as Head Start. October is Head Start Awareness Month.
Focused on preschool children from households with very low incomes, the somewhat radical idea of the time was to provide group/social skills and the beginnings of learning readiness for three and four year-olds, outside the home, through a program that, at the time, ran just a couple hours per day on just one, two or three days per week during the school year. Most Head Start sites were in community centers, church basements and a variety of other locations. Nutritious meals were a mainstay in helping those young bodies and minds flourish. Opportunity Council’s was among the first wave of the nation’s programs to hit the ground.
From the beginning, a prized value was also helping the parents of the enrolled children move forward as well, in terms of parenting skills, economic stability and more, so a variety of services to the family wrapped around the classroom experience. Many notable Americans of all races were beneficiaries of Head Start. And many Head Start parents, even today, are trained to become part of our staff.