How does the Head Start Program affect child development and learning?
The Head Start Program was started in 1965 and is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Established as a means of facilitating the academic development of underprivileged children, it has expanded over time to provide a more comprehensive program of academic, nutritional and over-all health care for low-income families. By providing assistance to low-income families at the earliest stage of development – in fact, it has been extended to prenatal care because of the body of evidence that mental development begins with the dietary habits of the pregnant mother – children otherwise lacking in the means, due to the family’s socioeconomic status, to attain a proper education are placed on a less-uneven level with their affluent contemporaries.
There is a direct connection between nutrition and learning ability. Ensuring that children from low-income families receiving at least one or two nutritional meals a day, especially breakfast, helps these children focus on their studies and develop physically as well as mentally.
An example of how the Head Start Program assists disadvantaged children is the situation on many Native American reservations around the country. Plagued with alarmingly high rates of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and broken families, Native American communities are prime beneficiaries of Head Start. Children are picked up in front of their homes by a school bus manned by specially-trained teachers and assistants, transported to school, fed and escorted to their classrooms, where they receive an education commensurate with that in more traditionally-functional school systems. The hope is that, by providing these benefits, the seriously disadvantaged children of the reservations can enjoy a “normal” childhood, at least for the time they are at school. While Head Start has sought to extend its coverage to the home, results are less encouraging given the aforementioned social problems endemic to those communities.