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Best Practices and Effective Strategies for Connecting Head Start Programs with Refugee Communities

1:00 PM EDT
2:00 PM EDT

Professional Development Tools Webinars Best Practice Diversity Equity & Inclusion

Program: Best Practices and Effective Strategies for Connecting Head Start Programs with Refugee Communities

Representatives from Head Start programs and Refugee Resettlement Agencies will share lessons learned, best practices, and effective strategies when engaging and collaborating with refugees. The 1-hour panel discussion will also offer opportunities for Head Start programs across the country to ask questions and share their own experiences when engaging this community.


  • Jennifer Larson, a former Head Start parent, has seamlessly transitioned from beneficiary to advocate, dedicating 31 years to supporting others in the early childhood field. Starting as a parent in a Head Start program, she rose to become the Associate Head Start Director of Child Care Resource and Referral/Families First of Minnesota. Throughout her journey, Ms. Larson completed her Elementary Education degree, obtained her Minnesota Teaching Licensure, and became a trainer for the development program at Minnesota Department of Education. Her diverse experience includes teaching in a classroom, building relationships with parents as a home visitor, coaching staff, supervising, and training. Ms. Larson’s personal experience underscores her dedication to improving the lives of children, families, and communities served by the Head Start program. 

  • Malath Alarnosi, originally from Iraq, serves as a dedicated Case Manager Supervisor at Canopy Northwest Arkansas (NWA), assisting refugee families during their resettlement in NWA. Central to her role is facilitating the enrollment of these families in the Head Start program, helping them to navigate both the triumphs and obstacles of the process to ensure ongoing cooperation and support.

  • Dr. Deborah Bergeron, known affectionately as “Dr. B” to former students and teachers, brings a wealth of experience to her role as Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Innovation at the National Head Start Association (NHSA). Prior to joining NHSA in January 2021, she served as the Director of the Office of Early Childhood Development and represented the Office of Head Start as its director. With three decades of experience in pre-K–12 public education as a classroom teacher and school administrator, Dr. Bergeron holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas State University and earned her master’s in education leadership and doctorate in education policy from George Mason University. 

  • Dr. Thea Wilson is the Vice President for Children and Families at Step Forward. Dr. Wilson is responsible for managing the operations of Early Head Start, Head Start, and all service areas and Parental Involvement programs for 1750 children. Dr. Wilson has over 40 years of early childhood development experience in a public school system and spent 11 years in administration. She has 15 years of experience teaching college level courses as well as creating workshops and facilitating training for parents, teachers and other professionals. Dr. Wilson served as the Chair of Early Childhood at The Music Settlement — a five-star, arts-based, early childhood education program in Cleveland. Immediately prior, Dr. Wilson served as the Executive Director of the Office of Early Childhood – Pre-K to Third Grade – for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. 

  • Gilda Morales-Aleman, Administrative Director of eligibility, recruitment, selection, enrollment, and attendance (ERSEA),Family Services & Data Systems at Cardinal McCloskey Community Services Early Childhood Division, is a dedicated advocate for children and families. Born in Ecuador, Ms. Morales-Aleman’s parents migrated to New York when she was just 3 years old, instilling in her a deep appreciation for the immigrant experience. She is the proud mother of Natalia (16) and Victor Manuelle (9), and lives in New Jersey. With a passion for serving her community, Ms. Morales-Aleman’s journey in the education and social services field spans an impressive 23 years within the Department of Education (DOE) Bilingual Elementary
    school 4th grade teacher, to presently working with the Head Start family. She has worked in the DOE and Head Start centers in the Bronx, Harlem, and Washington Heights. In her current role, she focuses on ERSEA, community partnerships, and family engagement, recognizing the importance of supporting and advocating for the most vulnerable populations.


  • Mark Weber provides 32 years of experience at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) challenging the status quo and creating meaningful change in Federal programs.  Most recently he served as principal advisor and major policy-coordinating official on communications across public health, healthcare and in particular the human services portfolio of HHS agencies and offices.  Examples of his work as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs include formulating and leading the first $300 million phase of the U.S. Government’s COVID-19 Public Education Media Campaign and leading communications work on the humanitarian response to the dramatic increase in unaccompanied children referred to HHS care by immigration officials.  Prior to serving as HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs from January 2012 to July 2021, Mark Weber was the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Director of Communications from September 1995 to January 2012 and a speechwriter in the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health from October 1989 to September 1995.  Mark Weber achieved a bachelor’s degree in marketing management from Virginia Tech in 1987 and a master’s in business administration from George Washington University in 1995.  He has documented and published much of his work in peer reviewed journals and received numerous awards throughout his career at HHS.