Head Start can have a great impact on children living in poverty by creating a partnership.
“I don’t believe just because a child went to pre-K that it’s going to make a big difference in a child’s life; but if you can impact that family in a positive way, then the family is going to become a positive influence on that child throughout that child’s life,” said David Kelley, director for the Family Resource Agency’s Head Start and state preschool programs, at the Rotary Club of Cleveland.
Kelley said parents need to be partners in education because “parents are the first and most important educator of that child.”
Head Start serves 3- and 4-year-old students. Tennessee state preschool serves 4-year-old students.
HighScope research started in the 1960s studied students in a high quality preschool program versus those who did not attend such a program.
“They tracked these children throughout their academic career,” Kelley said. “What they have done is they have gone back after 25 years and looked up those students.”
All of the students came from impoverished families and were considered at risk of dropping out of school.
The study found those who had been a part of the preschool were less likely to commit a crime, had higher economic status and better relationships with friends and family.
Kelley said a Head Start program could not do this, but the positive impact it had on reading could.
Kelley said today’s preschool students are learning what many adults learned in kindergarten.
“This is where the children learn that letters constitute sounds, groups of letters constitute words you read from left to right, top to bottom — you open a book from the right to the left. These are very basic steps in learning how to read,” Kelley said.
Kelley said it is important for young children to know that reading can be fun.
“Many children are not ready for today’s first-grade style kindergarten. That’s because (No Child Left Behind) is very challenging for these children ... expecting more out of the children at earlier ages,” Kelley said.
A child from a middle-class family will hear 45 million total words from the time they are born until the time they start kindergarten.
“In an impoverished home, they are only hearing 13 million words,” Kelley said. “In other words [the study found] these people just don’t converse as much.”
Kelley said sometimes this is the reason a student in kindergarten does not follow directions. It is because they really do not understand what is said.
“We have had kids come into Head Start who can’t even speak, like they were throwaway children,” Kelley said. “How is that child going to compete in kindergarten?”
Early education in the American colonies also began with 3- and 4-year-old students in “dame schools,” so called because they were taught by women.
“The brain studies today are backing up what these people knew as just common sense — that children at that age learn more quicker, faster than we do at our age today,” Kelley said.
In Bradley County, the Head Start and preschool programs are funded totally through state or federal funding.
Kelley said this is possible because whenever a Head Start student is put in a state preschool class, federal funding follows the child. The classroom is then bought up to Head Start.
The idea of public education actually began in England around the time of the Protestant Reformation, according to Kelley.
Protestant reforms in England emphasized the importance of every Christian being able to understand the Bible for themselves. They began opening schools to teach people how to read.
John Knox was a leader of this in England.
“He started schools throughout Great Britain, throughout England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, so that these people could learn how to read so they could learn how to read the Bible,” Kelley said.
A further emphasis on education was brought to England by King James, who authorized the King James Version of the Bible.
“(He) King James was actually the founder of public education as we know it today because he took a look at these schools around England. He said I really like what that man John Knox is doing, because this is making a big difference in my country,” Kelley said.
According to Kelley, the king gave Knox money to start more schools and improve existing ones.
In the Southern United States before the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson championed the cause of bringing education to the slaves.
Kelley said it was against the law in many states to teach a slave how to read. He emphasized that this was not just in the South.
“He only had a few slaves and they were house servants because he lived in the city. What he did was to teach them to read, so they could read the Bible,” Kelley said.
The class grew as Jackson got permission from other slave owners to teach their slaves also. Jackson was the commandant of the Virginia Military Institute at the time.
When the classes ended because of the start of the Civil War, 10 churches grew out of the class.