This summer, NHSA’s interns - Hannah Taylor, a sophomore at NYU Abu Dhabi, and Elaine Vilorio, a junior at Amherst College - had the chance to visit Higher Horizons Head Start in Falls Church, VA, an NHSA member not far from our headquarters near Washington, D.C. Hannah and Elaine reflected on their time visiting Head Start through both the local center and their experience at NHSA.
by Hannah Taylor
When discussing Head Start, we often talk about a window of opportunity. There is a pervasive sense of purpose in ensuring that all children receive a quality early education regardless of the circumstances they are born into. The tremendous potential that all children possess and the desire to help them reach that potential are the backbone of Head Start’s vision, and all actions taken by the team at the National Head Start Association pay homage to this vision. As an External Affairs Intern, I can see the way that NHSA works tirelessly to advocate for Head Start’s interests and make sure that opportunity extends to all who need it. At times, however, it can be difficult to see the way that the policies that guide Head Start play out on the ground level.
It was a strikingly beautiful morning when we arrived at Higher Horizons Head Start in Falls Church, Virginia. We were met by Executive Director Mary Ann Cornish, who informed us that she was excited we’d be able to see “where rubber hits the road”. We felt the same way. We were able to meet the staff comprising the center’s leadership team. As each member explained their unique role in providing support to the children and their families, the passion in their voices could not be missed. They shared examples of how their work benefits the diverse population served by the center. The families served by the center come from an array of educational, ethnic, and language backgrounds. Despite the day-to-day challenges of managing a large center and serving children with a wide range of needs, all of the team members cited that it was the passion for their work and the reward that comes from helping families that kept them going.
We were given a tour of the facility. The classrooms were filled with light and objects conducive to early learning. Play-doh provided sensory stimulation, and dolls of different races provided opportunities for role play. It became clear immediately that a huge amount of learning takes place here. The giddily exuberant children who were delighted to meet us served as further proof.
Visiting Higher Horizons and seeing the smiling faces, smiles made possible by a dedicated and capable staff, was an affirmation of the work that NHSA does to help every deserving child receive their Head Start.
by Elaine Vilorio
As the Research and Policy Intern, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the ins and outs of Head Start. My parents immigrated to the U.S. so that my brother and I could get the best education possible. Because of them, I've always known how important education is for well-being and socio-economic advancement. Prior to interning at NHSA, though, I considered education through a K-12 lens. I’ve since learned that education starts from birth.
While reading and writing about research and policy is exciting and necessary, I’ve found myself restless. I’ve found myself thinking, “What is reading this research article doing for the kids in my neighborhood?” Sometimes it is hard to stay motivated when you don’t see your work in practice. I’ve also found myself discouraged, particularly with bureaucratic obstacles. The most recent one manifests itself in the new standards. I’ve been working closely with NHSA’s Director of Policy, Data and Research Emmalie Dropkin on drafting standards comments. If the standards go through as they are, all Head Start programs will be required to provide full day and full year services, among other things. As we’ve found from speaking with Head Start directors, most programs will struggle financially with such a task. The mandate is being proposed with no increase in funding, meaning the potential loss of children’s slots. In fact, the Office of Head Start estimates that 126,000 slots could be lost.
On Wednesday, July 22, I became a little less restless and a little less discouraged. NHSA had the privilege of visiting Higher Horizons Head Start and Early Head Start in Falls Church, VA. It was remarkable to see all of the research and policy I’ve read and analyze come to life. I saw classrooms with learning materials in multiple languages, highlighting the program’s commitment to multiculturalism and multilingualism. I saw a diverse staff to reflect the diverse student population, some of whom were once Head Start parents themselves. It was an inspirational setting. I was particularly struck by the fact Higher Horizons has been a full day, full year program for many years now. This program has managed to creatively utilize different funding streams to make such a feat possible. It gave me hope for other programs that are currently in fear of full day, full year expansion. Certainly, expanding won’t be without hardship, but I saw that it was possible while still meeting a community’s needs.
NHSA’s internship program offers college students an introduction to the inner workings of a national non-profit organization. This is a wonderful opportunity to become involved in Early Childhood Education policy and the Head Start community. Interns gain exposure to national and grassroots advocacy, research, communications, and more. Interns are active members of the NHSA team and are able to acquire valuable hands-on experience in different areas of non-profit work. One such opportunity is visiting a local Head Start program.