Head Start wants teachers to treat children like their own

By Jan Demers

Who do you want to teach your children?

More than 30 years ago, I lived in a town with a population of 700. While it was idyllic it wasn’t perfect; however, all the children of the town were our children.

Years later in a different, larger community, that simple idea carries on.

“I don’t know how you do it” said one dad recently after bringing his son to their Head Start classroom. Indeed, it is a full day with 15 3-to-5-year-olds in one room.

Champlain Valley Head Start and its companion Early Head Start program are state and federally funded early childhood education programs for low-income families to nurture the healthy development of children and prepare them for school, providing support for families along the way.

When speaking to Head Start teachers about their goals, Marisa went first: “I want to be the kind of teacher [that] I want for my own child.”

After that, the four teachers spoke not about themselves but about the children. These are teachers with classroom experience ranging from nine months to 26 years.

They listed their daily challenges: “We are seeing children who aren’t getting enough sleep, who have social-emotional challenges leading to significant behavior issues and some who have delayed development.”
Then are the few youngsters who can literally climb a six-foot fence or run out the door as soon as they come in. For most, their superhero power is resiliency.

What is the rule for these teachers? Say two positive things before any negativity is expressed. Judgment is left outside the walls of the classroom and outside any home visit.

Success is having a 4-year-old say, “I’m having a bad day” before crying, kicking or showing other signs of frustration. Success is working with children to verbalize and listening to their vocabulary grow.

Accomplishment for one little boy is being able to give voice to feelings through art.

Consistency brings comfort and safety for the 15 children in this classroom.

Parent-teacher conferences start a relationship with parents. Each child gets at least two home visits during the year. The teacher is able to see where the child lives and gain insight into their student’s life. The child is proud that their teacher has been in their home. The parent feels more ownership of their child’s education.

Mary, Marisa, Sam and Debbie are present at all times for their children. They interact with the Vermont Department of Children and Family Services when foster care is part of a child’s life. They distract and focus to bring calm when there is none. They give safe hugs and speak in soothing voices. They anticipate welcoming each child in the morning and watch for “ah-ha” moments of wonder during the day.

Champlain Valley Head Start and its companion Early Head Start program are state and federally funded early childhood education programs for low-income families to nurture the healthy development of children and prepare them for school, providing support for families along the way.

Eligibility for Head Start begins if you are an expectant mother or have a child from birth to 5 years old. Documentation is then needed for at least one of the following: Your family is receiving Reach Up benefits; you are in receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI); you have a foster child; you are experiencing homelessness or for the last year; or your family income is within 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

Who do I want to teach my children?

Those who want to be the teacher they wish for their own children.

Jan F. Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. jdemers@cvoeo.org. Details about the Head Start program are online at champlainvalleyheadstart.org.

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