Head Start is a comprehensive preschool program for low-income ages birth through five year olds. It provides children with a developmentally appropriate early childhood education. The program ensures that young children get health checkups and treatment, oral health screeenings, and that they are fed a nutritious hot meal every day. It is operated by local agencies in every county in Pennsylvania. Head Start is unique in its comprehensive approach to the needs of children and families, which adheres to federally designated standards.
In Head Start, teachers work with children, and their families, to help them gain the skills needed to succeed in school- both academically and socially. The program offers comprehensive health, nutrition, and other family support services including opportunities to learn parenting skills. Head Start provides children with activities that help them grow mentally, socially, emotionally, and physically. Head Start children socialize with others, solve problems, and have other experiences that help them to become self-confident.
Head Start focuses on the whole family, making sure that parents receive help with a wide range of family needs including housing, employment, and parenting education. It also aims to move preschool children and their families toward self-sufficiency. Head Start offers assistance to parents interested in obtaining a high school General Equivalency Diploma or other adult education and employment opportunities. Parent involvement is encouraged in all aspects of the program, from assisting in the classroom to making decisions about program policies and activities.
Each Head Start program has a locally designed program model based on the specific needs of the communities being served. In some (especially rural) areas of the state, Head Start services are offered in the home instead of in the classroom. A home visitor meets with families on a weekly basis and helps the family to structure learning opportunities in the home. Children (and Parents) get together for group play at least twice a month.
In programs that offer a classroom model, classes are typically held for 4 to 6 hours daily, 4 or 5 days a week during the typical school year. Many programs also offer full-day, full-year classes for working parents. Full-day/full-year Head Start is sometimes provided in cooperation with a child care center or child care residence.
Children with disabilities are welcome in Head Start- programs reserve a minimum of 10% of their openings for children with disabilities. Special services are available to ensure that children can fully participate in all aspects of the program.
Early Head Start’s programs are designed to provide the same kinds of comprehensive child development and family support services to families with children under age three, and pregnant women that are already involved in Head Start. Early Head Start’s services include home visits, health and nutrition services, and referrals to other social services that may be needed.
The Head Start program is supported by federal funds through the Administration of Children, Youth and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Research shows that a high quality early childhood education experience produces a return on investment of between $4 to $17 based on savings in reduced education, social service and law enforcement costs. Click here for more information on Head Start, Early Head Start or Early Childhood Education research.
Families wishing to enroll in Head Start or Early Head Start must meet income eligibility guidelines in order to enroll their child(ren), but services are free. In order to qualify a family of four must have an income of less than $20,000. Click here to view the current Federal Poverty Guidelines. Click here for more information on how to enroll in either Head Start or Early Head Start.