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Four Siblings’ Success Rooted in Project Head Start

"When I enrolled my son in Head Start, I did not know much about the program. I just knew I needed something for the kids to do without overextending financially," said mother Carla Fick who enrolled her son, Daniel, as part of the inaugural class of Project Head Start.

Transplants from Iowa, the family lived in Anchorage, AK, in 1968. Carla remembers the bus coming to pick up her little boy. Daniel carries a clear memory of his graduation ceremony.

"I was very proud of the graduation cap and certificate. I took them with me when we later moved back to Iowa. I still have the certificate, which has Lady Bird Johnson's signature imprinted."

Head Start was a vital component of the Great Society policy initiative commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Launched in 1965, Head Start was the first-of-its-kind, national effort to educate the country's youngest learners. It implemented a holistic approach to address children and families dealing with socio-economic challenges.

When the family returned to Iowa, they connected with Head Start in Mapleton where their middle son, Bernard, enrolled. The program was held in a building next to the town's historic Episcopal church.

"I remember playing with my Head Start friends on the steps of that church. We used the railings as slides. We probably shouldn't have done that," Bernard recounts with a chuckle.

While Bernard was in the program, Carla served on the Policy Council, which includes elected parents and community members who work closely with program management to provide overall direction for the program. The early framers of Head Start built parent engagement into the infrastrucure, recognizing it as a crucial component to children's learning at home and overall family wellbeing.

"By serving on the policy council, I learned how to 'step it up' as a leader," said Carla. "And it wasn't just me. I saw other parents grow in confidence."

Carla's children also noticed this positive outcome.

"Her involvement with the Council was an awakening for her as an advocate," said Patricia, Carla's oldest daughter. "She continued to use those advocacy and leadership skills beyond parent council as she served with a local community action agency and in her work as a nurse manager and educator."

Kevin, the youngest in family and a current psychologist and educator, reflects on his Head Start experience with an appreciation for its innovative approach.

"Head Start understood child development from a cognitive, social, and physical standpoint. And this was nearly 60 years ago. Now we are all highly educated and professionally successful—starting with mom who is a retired director of nursing. Look at my siblings and me: we're engineers, educators, and lawyers. No doubt, Head Start had a role in that."

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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