General Family Engagement Information
The Head Start program focuses on preschool children and their education but that is only where things start. A large part of the Head Start program relates to the Family and engaging the Family in the education process for their child. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher and Head Start can help foster positive parent-child relationships and incorporate learning into everyday family activities. There are also many additional ways in which families can be involved in Head Start and the education of their child.
One of the best ways for parents to be involved in the Head Start program is to join and participate in the Policy Council. The Policy Council is a group of parents representing classroom sites and representatives from community organizations that meet to discuss all aspects of the Head Start program. This includes discussion on the grant itself, program operations and much more. The Policy Council is empowered to consider and approve (or disapprove) all aspects of the Head Start program. All changes made to policies also must be considered and approved (or disapproved) by the Policy Council.
Near the beginning of each program year, a call for policy council representative nominations goes out to all parents of children participating in the Head Start program. Parents can also volunteer (nominate themselves) to be a part of policy council. Policy Council meets monthly.
Parent / PEP Meetings
Throughout the program year, parent meetings are held to bring together the families participating in the Head Start program. At these meetings, topics are presented (such as extreme couponing) that parents express interest in. It is also a time that our families can network together about common interests or challenges that they may be facing.
When a family initially enters the Head Start program or at the beginning of each program year, a Family Advocate will perform a survey with the family in order to help determine how the Head Start program can best help that family. The name of the survey is the Strength and Needs Assessment. It contains a series of questions related to the current status of things like basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) and different aspects of education. After the survey is conducted, the Family Advocate will analyze the results and with the assistance and guidance of the family, create an action plan related to any needs that have been revealed by the survey.
The action plan that is created may contain referrals made to local resources that can help a family address any needs that were identified. A Family Advocate will provide all of the information a family needs to obtain the resource that can address their need. Family Advocates will also help a family to set goals related to needs such as furthering a person’s education (whether it be completing a GED or pursuing a college degree), changing a family’s living circumstances or getting a job. Family Advocates are very knowing of what resources are available and will put that knowledge to work for all Head Start families.
Events and Activities
Throughout the year, many different activities and events will be organized by Family Advocates. Events will be activities as simple as a scavenger hunt all the way up to a banquet for the Men of the Year event. Many of the events are directed towards the children and families participating in the Head Start program but most are also shared on Facebook or other social media.
A traditionally favorite event is a project called the Cardboard Challenge. The Cardboard Challenge involves parents and their children building something using mostly cardboard along with supplies such as tape or glue. Events such as this allow for the child’s creativity and imagination to reach new heights.
The Cardboard Challenge is also the cornerstone of another aspect of the Head Start program: father engagement. The Head Start program believes in the importance of a father or father figure involvement in a child’s life. Whether it be a father, grandfather, uncle, brother or someone else, having a father or father figure present serves a key role in the healthy development of children. To encourage this, the Head Start program holds specific events each year in an effort to foster father involvement.
A swim class is held at the YMCA for fathers or father figures and their children. One part of the swim class is swimming lessons for the children. The other part of this class is a fatherhood education session along with a bit of camaraderie. This bonding time consists of the father figures sharing stories related to that day’s topic and the mutual understanding that they are not alone in their daily journey to be great father figures.
Near the end of a school year, the third fatherhood engagement event is held. That event is the Men of the Year banquet. Each family participating in the Head Start program is given an opportunity to nominate a father or father figure to be recognized as one of the Men of the Year. The banquet is a dinner with awards given to the nominees and many activities for all of the children in attendance. Highlights from each nomination are celebrated along with every family in attendance.
The Head Start program offers parenting classes throughout each program year. The Head Start program uses the Conscious Discipline system of classroom management and promotes that approach for parenting as well. Information is sent home throughout the school year. We also have Conscious Discipline trained staff that can be available to assist parents with any troubling issues.
The last major way that families can be involved in the Head Start program is by completing what is referred to as “in-kind.” The grantor agency views goods and services donated to the Head Start program as a local investment in the program. This is viewed very favorably by the grantor and in order to meet the conditions of receiving the grant, the Head Start program must secure at least <<X>> amount of in-kind each program year. One of the most important ways that in-kind is collected is through a parent’s involvement with their child and completion of homework and home based activities.
In order to receive the grant that is provided to ACCAA Head Start, in-kind hours must be completed by the families involved within the program. There many ways to help your program earn in-kind. This can be done by completion of homework, home-based activities, volunteering in events, serving on Policy Council, donations of goods such as clothing, toys, and books, and also by attending parent meetings.