Alumni Spotlight: Greetings from NHSA’s Director of Alumni Engagement

Thank you to Head Start alumna Malkia Payton-Jackson, the National Head Start Association first-ever director of Alumni Engagement, for this guest post!

I am thrilled to join the National Head Start Association as Director of Alumni Engagement. I attended Head Start in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it is where I met my first best friend. Interestingly, when you speak to Head Start alumni, there is a bond, a shared positive sentiment. We each have a memory that induces a smile or wistful glance. For me, it is that of a best friend; for others, it is a favorite snack, toy, activity, or teacher.

Alumni Engagement, Alumni Bonds

It is a bit of a mystery why Head Start evokes such a strong sense of nostalgia and connection. My unresearched opinion is that Head Start’s magic may be that it is the first learning environment that gives children a sense of belonging. Head Start is a community; it is a movement.

Another bond among many Head Start alumni is our belief and confidence in the value of the Head Start mission and its impact. For six decades, the mission has been the same - give every vulnerable child the opportunity to succeed through a whole-child, whole-family approach - and the outcomes are tangible. The reach is broad.

Millions of Head Start alumni are living testaments to it. We hail from communities across the country. We serve and work in every sector worldwide - from boardrooms to classrooms, from cockpits to courtrooms. What is striking is how many Head Start kids there are, each with a salient memory of belonging, each living proof of Head Start’s impact, each with a story but without a stage. We are hiding in the wings.

Join the Alumni Network

I want to galvanize the Head Start alumni to go from hiding in the wings to being center stage - a force to be reckoned with, visible, and heard in local communities, workplaces, schools, universities, college campuses, and Capitol Hill. Together, we can harness the power of our collective voice to ensure Head Start remains relevant and more vital than ever in the fight for equitable early education. Can we count on you to join the movement?


Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come.

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