History Podcasts

Head Start

Head Start

In 1964 the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) organised its Freedom Summer campaign. Its main objective was to try an end the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South.

The campaign also established 30 Freedom Schools in towns throughout Mississippi. Volunteers taught in the schools and the curriculum now included black history and the philosophy of the civil rights movement. During the summer of 1964 over 3,000 students attended these schools and the experiment provided a model for future educational programs such as Head Start.

The first Head Start program took place during the summer of 1965. Lasting eight weeks, it was so successful it became a national, year-round program in 1966. The local community had to provide 10 per cent of the costs with the federal government paying the rest. The main purpose of the the program is to help deprived pre-school children achieve their full potential.

Since I have become active in CORE here in New York, I have become increasingly aware of the problems which exist in the Southern states. I have a strong desire to contribute in some small way, by the utilization of those skills which I possess, to the redress of the many grievances occurring daily. I wish to become an active participant rather than a passive onlooker.

As a teacher I have been working in South Jamaica, Queens where I not only have had experience in dealing with teenagers, but have become increasingly concerned with the conditions under which these children must live.

As my husband and I are in close agreement as to our philosophy and involvement in the civil rights struggle, I wish to work near him, under the direction of CORE, in whatever capacity I may be most useful. My hope is to someday pass on to the children we may have a world containing more respect for the dignity and worth of all men that that would which was willed to us.

I happened to be alone in the classroom with Mr. Ostrowski, my English teacher. He was a tall, rather reddish white man and he had a thick mustache. I had gotten some of my best marks under him, and he had always made me feel that he liked me. I know that he probably meant well in what he happened to advise me that day. I doubt that he meant any harm. It was just in his nature as an American white man.

He told me, "Malcolm, you ought to be thinking about a career. Have you been giving it thought?" The truth is, I hadn't. I had never figured out why I told him, "Well, yes, sir, I've been thinking I'd like to be a lawyer."

Mr. Ostrowski looked surprised, I remember, and leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. He kind of half-smiled and said, "Malcolm, one of life's first needs is for us to be realistic. Don't misunderstand me, now. We all here like you, you know that. But you've got to be realistic about being a ******. A lawyer - that's no realistic goal for a ******. You need to think about something you can be. You're good with your hands - making things. Everybody admires your carpentry shop work. Why don't you plan on carpentry? People like you as a person - you'd get all kind of work."

Urie Bronfenbrenner, father of Head Start program and pre-eminent 'human ecologist,' dies at age 88

Urie Bronfenbrenner, a co-founder of the national Head Start program and widely regarded as one of the world's leading scholars in developmental psychology, child-rearing and human ecology – the interdisciplinary domain he created – died at his home in Ithaca, N.Y., Sept. 25 due to complications from diabetes. He was 88.

At his death, Bronfenbrenner was the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Human Development and of Psychology at Cornell University, where he spent most of his professional career. A memorial service organized by his family is planned for Saturday, Oct. 8, at 3 p.m. in Anabel Taylor Hall auditorium. A service for the Cornell community will be announced at a later time.

Bronfenbrenner's ideas and his ability to translate them into operational research models and effective social policies spurred the creation in 1965 of Head Start, the federal child development program for low-income children and their families. In 1979 Bronfenbrenner further developed his thinking into the groundbreaking theory on the ecology of human development. That theoretical model transformed the way many social and behavioral scientists approached the study of human beings and their environments. It led to new directions in basic research and to applications in the design of programs and policies affecting the well-being of children and families both in the United States and abroad.

His research also furthered the goals of Cornell's Life Course Institute, which was renamed the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Institute in 1993 and is currently directed by Daniel Lichter.

He spent many of his later years warning that the process that makes human beings human is breaking down as disruptive trends in American society produce ever more chaos in the lives of America's children. "The hectic pace of modern life poses a threat to our children second only to poverty and unemployment," he said. "We are depriving millions of children – and thereby our country – of their birthright … virtues, such as honesty, responsibility, integrity and compassion."

The gravity of the crisis, he warned, threatens the competence and character of the next generation of adults – those destined to be the first leaders of the 21st century. "The signs of this breakdown are all around us in the ever growing rates of alienation, apathy, rebellion, delinquency and violence among American youth," he said. Yet, Bronfenbrenner added: "It is still possible to avoid that fate. We now know what it takes to enable families to work the magic that only they can perform. The question is, are we willing to make the sacrifices and the investment necessary to enable them to do so?"

Bronfenbrenner also was well-known for his cross-cultural studies on families and their support systems and on human development and the status of children. He was the author, co-author or editor of more than 300 articles and chapters and 14 books, most notably "Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R.," "The State of Americans," "The Ecology of Human Development" and "Making Human Beings Human." His writings were widely translated, and his students and colleagues number among today's most internationally influential developmental psychologists.

Researchers say that before Bronfenbrenner, child psychologists studied the child, sociologists examined the family, anthropologists the society, economists the economic framework of the times and political scientists the structure. As the result of Bronfenbrenner's groundbreaking concept of the ecology of human development, these environments – from the family to economic and political structures – were viewed as part of the life course, embracing both childhood and adulthood.

Bronfenbrenner's "bioecological" approach to human development shattered barriers among the social sciences and forged bridges among the disciplines that have allowed findings to emerge about which key elements in the larger social structure and across societies are vital for developing the potential of human nature. The theory has helped tease out what is needed for the understanding of what makes human beings human.

Stephen Ceci, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell who worked closely with Bronfenbrenner for almost 25 years, said: "When I first came to Cornell as a junior faculty member, I was pretty full of myself. I remember thinking that I was going to teach this old codger some new tricks and some new science. Little did I realize that once I began working with Urie the tables would be turned on me. I quickly apprehended that I was dealing with a true master, someone peerless. I doubt I taught Urie much, but I can attest to the fact that he taught me a great deal, including to think in ways that were new and exciting. Some of my best work was done at his instigation. My bioecological theory was a direct result of his enormous influence on my thinking."

Urie Bronfenbrenner plays with children attending Cornell's Early Childhood Center.

He continued: "This year I received the James McKeen Catell Award from the American Psychological Society, the same award that Urie received many years earlier. At the award ceremony in Los Angeles, I commented that the award was the direct result of the good luck I had early in my career when I began collaborating with Urie. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the most important intellectual and personal mentor in my life. We will all miss him deeply."

Melvin L. Kohn, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University who studied under Bronfenbrenner some 40 years ago, observed that "Urie was the quintessential person for spurring psychologists to look up and realize that interpersonal relationships, even the smallest level of the child and the parent-child relationship, did not exist in a social vacuum but were embedded in the larger social structures of community, society, economics and politics, while encouraging sociologists to look down to see what people were doing."

From the very beginning of his scholarly work, Bronfenbrenner pursued three mutually reinforcing themes: developing theory and corresponding research designs at the frontiers of developmental science laying out the implications and applications of developmental theory and research for policy and practice and communicating – through articles, lectures and discussions -- the findings of developmental research to undergraduate students, the general public and to decision-makers, both in the private and public sectors.

His widely published contributions won him honors and awards both at home and abroad. He held many honorary doctoral degrees, several of them from leading European universities. His most recent American award (1996), now given annually in his name, is for "Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society" from the American Psychological Association, known as "The Bronfenbrenner Award."

"As the father of the Head Start program and a lifelong advocate for children and families, Urie Bronfenbrenner earned the acclaim of scholars and elected leaders alike for his insights and his commitment," said Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings. "Perhaps more than any other single individual, Urie Bronfenbrenner changed America's approach to child rearing and created a new interdisciplinary scholarly field, which he defined as the ecology of human development. His association with Cornell spanned almost 60 years, and his legacy continues through Cornell's Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center and through the generations of students to whom he was an inspiring teacher, mentor and friend."

Francille Firebaugh, professor and dean emerita of Cornell's College of Human Ecology, commented: "Urie's introductory class, the Development of Human Behavior, was legendary, and his ability to make complex ideas readily accessible and stimulating was evident in his teaching and his writing. He loved Cornell and he was the faculty member most alumni asked about in my years as dean."

Born in Moscow in 1917, Bronfenbrenner came to the United States at the age of 6. After graduating from high school in Haverstraw, N.Y., he received a bachelor's degree from Cornell in 1938, completing a double major in psychology and music. He went on to graduate work in developmental psychology, completing an M.A. degree at Harvard University followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1942. The day after receiving his doctorate he was inducted into the Army, where he served as a psychologist in a variety of assignments in the Air Corps and the Office of Strategic Services. After completing officer training, he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Following demobilization and a two-year stint as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, he joined the Cornell faculty in 1948, where he remained for the rest of his professional life.

In addition to his wife, Liese, he is survived by six children, including Kate, who is the director of labor education research at Cornell, and 13 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center or to the Albert R. Mann Library, both at Cornell.

Head Start Services

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low-income families. Services are provided in a variety of settings including centers, family child care, and children’s own home. Head Start programs also engage parents or other key family members in positive relationships, with a focus on family wellbeing. Parents participate in leadership roles, including having a say in program operations.

Head Start programs support children's growth in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, which include:

  • Early learning and development: Children's readiness for school and beyond is fostered through individualized learning experiences. Through relationships with adults, play, and planned and spontaneous instruction, children grow in many aspects of development. These include social skills, emotional well-being, language and literacy skills, mathematics, and science concepts. Early learning experiences also include the cultural and language heritage of each child and family in relevant ways. Parents, including grandparents, foster parents, and other primary caregivers, are recognized as children’s first and most influential teachers. Their knowledge of their children is central to each child’s individualized approach. Additionally, Head Start programs work with families, school districts and other entities to facilitate a smooth transition to kindergarten for each child.
  • Health: Health and physical development are crucial for early learning opportunities that require children to fully explore and experience their environment. Head Start programs provide safe and healthy learning experiences indoors and outdoors.All children receive health screenings and nutritious meals, and programs connect families with medical, dental, and mental health services to ensure children are receiving the care and attention they need. Children receive support for building resiliency to cope with possible adverse effects of trauma. Families also receive mental health consultation focused on each child's needs.
  • Family well-being: Parents and families are offered program services to support family well-being and to achieve family goals, such as housing stability, continued education, and financial security. Programs support and strengthen parent-child relationships and engage families in the learning and development of their child.

Head Start programs are available at no cost to children ages birth to 5 from low-income families. Programs may provide transportation to the centers so enrolled children can participate regularly. Families and children experiencing homelessness, and children in the foster care system are also eligible. Additionally, Head Start services are available to children with disabilities and other special needs.

“Head Start” includes several different program types reflecting the needs of specific populations within the community. These include:

Head Start programs deliver services through 1,600 agencies in local communities. Most Head Start programs are run by non-profit organizations, schools, and community action agencies. They provide services to more than a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory.

    Head Start for 3s & up

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of children ages 3 to 5. Most of these programs are based in centers. In other programs, children and families may receive services from educators and family service staff who regularly make home visits.

Infants, toddlers, and pregnant women are served through Early Head Start programs. Early Head Start programs are available to the family until the child turns 3 years old and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program. Services to pregnant mothers and families, including prenatal support and follow-up, are also provided by Early Head Start. Many Early Head Start programs are provided in a child’s own home through weekly home visits that support the child’s development and family’s own goals. Other Early Head Start programs are located in centers which provide part day or full day programming for children. Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships are programs that are dedicated to offering Early Head Start services to eligible families within the childcare system.

Head Start programs were launched in 34 AIAN communities in the summer of 1965. Today, nearly 41,000 children of AIAN heritage are served in both AIAN and non-tribal programs. Head Start and Early Head Start programs honor the rich cultural heritage of our AIAN children, families, and communities. Based on the needs of local communities, programs offer traditional language and cultural practices to provide high-quality services to young children and their families.

Migrant and Seasonal programs provide specific services to children whose families are engaged in agricultural labor. MSHS programs work with both migrant farmworker families, who migrate to a number of geographic locations annually, and with seasonal farmworker families who are permanently settled in their communities but continue to do agricultural work. MSHS programs have served children from birth to age 5 since its inception in 1967 and are currently funded to serve over 30,000 children.

There are 272,900 Head Start and Early Head Start jobs in the U.S.


FY18 Federal Funding in the United States

slots were funded to serve American Indian / Alaska Native children

slots were funded to serve Migrant/Seasonal children

“My husband lost his job and we were evicted from our home. It is incredibly stressful to be homeless with an infant, but because of Early Head Start we were able to keep the stress away from our son. We worked at getting back on our feet—my husband took a job as a dishwasher and I worked as a secretary, which we could do knowing our son was receiving excellent care. Our son is doing great in all areas and learning social/emotional skills.”

The Origins of Early Head Start

The Origins of Early Head Start

Dr. Deborah Bergeron: Hello, Head Start! Happy February. It is time, once again, for a monthly vlog for you. And as I said in January, we are going to spend a lot of time in 2020 celebrating Early Head Start. Early Head Start turns a quarter-century this year. Twenty-five years of Early Head Start. And so, we want to make sure we pay special attention to Early Head Start and its uniqueness, and also tie it into what Head Start does already.

But before we get started, in tradition, we've got our love note and we are focusing on Early Head Start programs with our love notes this year. So, this month's love note goes to LEADS Community Action Agency, ABC Nursery in Ohio. This is a program that serves incarcerated women and it is only one of only eight programs in the country where the children actually stay with their mothers who are incarcerated, which is, we know that time with the baby is so important.

So, the fact that they're not separating the babies from the mothers is a really big deal. And ABC is key in helping to facilitate all of that. And not only are they doing the typical Early Head Start programming, but they are working with those moms so that when they are released and they're going back to the community, that they have some transitional support for both their child and for themselves, so that it's a smoother transition for everybody. So, I thought this was a really great example of what Early Head Start can do to both influence the development of a baby and also to help mom, which, of course influences the development of the baby.

Now, you might be wondering why I'm not by myself. OK, here's the thing. I think my knowledge of Early Head Start is what I would call limited, and, you know, I want to make sure that we're really paying tribute, so I brought my friend, Amanda, with me this month, who knows everything there is to know about Early Head Start. OK, just about.

Amanda Bryans: And you did have four babies, so you're probably a little bit more of an expert than you're reflecting.

Deborah: OK, I had four babies. That's true.

Deborah: But programmatically. OK, so I want to make sure we cover all the bases. So, I asked Amanda if she'd join me, and I'm gonna ask her some questions and we're just gonna have a dialogue this month, a little bit different, so that we can really highlight particularly the early development piece of Early Head Start. So, before we get started, or as we get started, we want to talk about the research. You know, Early Head Start's been around since the 90s. And can you share with us the research behind that and why would we take that step to actually expand Head Start to pregnant moms and beyond?

Amanda: That is great question, and I think that everyone in our community can really feel proud about how much the program works to incorporate what the research is telling us and to use that to drive constantly improving services. And in the early 90s, it was just the tip of the iceberg emerging about how much human development and brain development happens

during those earliest weeks and months and years of life. And as we were starting to really see that research, there was an advisory panel and a report and they said, "Hey Head Start, what you're doing for 3- and 4-year-olds is great, but it's late. We need to start earlier with the very youngest babies, even prenatally, and their families to get the biggest, kind of, possible impact we can have on their development in their lives."

So, more and more, we used to think babies didn't feel pain. People had no idea of all of the things that were happening for them and that it's incredible explosion of neurons and connections and exposure to language and all of the things that are happening. And understanding the role of the relationship that the baby has with the people around it who are taking care of it and how influential that is was critical part of, kind of the underpinnings of Early Head Start and it's just continued to grow.

Deborah: You know what's really interesting about that? I was just reading an article today about pre-K and public schools and that whole piece and actually, in the article it said it's great that public schools are starting to embrace 4-year-olds, that they really aren't starting early enough. It needs to start at birth, so I think we may have started something that might be . I mean, wouldn't that be crazy? If you're actually starting to think of public school being birth until 12th grade.

Amanda: It's amazing, and there are things that I think we in Head Start have learned through our work with Early Head Start that will improve what we do with preschoolers.

Deborah: Yeah, that's so exciting.

Amanda: So, we worried a lot about pushing down too much, but on the other side there's this knowledge, understanding about the importance of continuity, connection, relationships between children and parents and children and teachers, that's really, I think, helped us do even better in Head Start, as well as doing more if we're doing Early Head Start.

Deborah: So, is that part of Baby Faces? The stuff you were just sharing, like that knowledge base that we've been building. Is that a big piece of the Baby Faces study?

Amanda: Some of the Baby Faces has reflected that and some of even the earliest research we did, right from when Early Head Start was implemented, we had an impact study in it. It told us things about, you know, the importance of that long-term connection between children and adults, and other things that we weren't expecting, like if a program offers more than one option, it has better outcomes. And we think that might be because you can better align the option that parents need, which is something we sort of always intuitively thought, but we actually found evidence of that.

Deborah: And isn't that kind of true about all of it? I mean, if you had asked a mom 100 years ago, does birth to 3 matter? They probably would've said yes, because intuitively, you kinda knew it. But when the research backs it up, it just—it just changes. It's a game-changer. So, do you think . What parts of Early Head Start are actually cutting-edge now?

Amanda: I think it continues to be cutting-edge kind of across the board. One of the most important things that we've done is the, kind of recognizing that babies need planful, intentional teaching. It's not flashcards. In one of my earliest talks, I was talking about

curriculum in Early Head Start, and one of the people in the audience stood up and got a great laugh by saying, "What are you gonna do? Put flashcards over the cribs?" No, that's not what it looks like, but it does mean we're talking to babies when we go through the daily routine. We're associating words, we're exchanging looks, we're practicing turn-taking in conversation, we're supporting their physical development by making sure they're not spending the whole day in a—in a convenience carrier, or a car-seat kind of thing, or a bouncy seat. All of those interactions and supports we're providing are intentional, and planned, and reflect each child's development so that you can kind of keep upping the ante.

Deborah: I think it's the intention. Right? Being intentional about what you do. You know, you reminded me of an Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership that I visited, and it was actually also in a women's prison. And the director had been at that facility for a very long time, long before the Early Head Start partnership, and she said, "If you had been here prior, you wouldn't recognize this place. That before, it was more about just care. You know, just, you're safe, you're fed."

Amanda: You're in a crib. You're in a—Yep.

Deborah: I mean, they were loved. Exactly. But now, their day is so intentional and there are real purpose behind everything that they do. So, what you're saying really resonates with me, just in the little experience I've had visiting those centers. Do you have a favorite age or stage if you think about development?

Amanda: Well, that's really hard. I love children. I love them from birth to early adulthood, I really do. I like pregnant women a lot, too. It's just so fascinating.

Deborah: My adult kids are great!

Amanda: I know! I don't want them to change, but every day .

Deborah: OK, so I'm gonna make you pick, then. Let's say birth to 3, Early Head Start. [Inaudible] If right now, I could hand you a child, what would make you happiest?

Amanda: Well, right now? Right now in the federal . I would want a baby. A little sweetsmelling, melt in your arms, look in your eyes, think you're the most wonderful thing, little, tiny baby.

Deborah: I'm with you. I love holding babies.

Amanda: I love the potential. I just saw a quote—

Deborah: They can even cry. It's fine yeah it's fine.

Amanda: It's fine. I'm a good juggler.

Amanda: But, you know, I just had this quote. Pat McMahon our TA lead showed me about every baby, the miracle that is represented by every baby who's—who's born. And I was so moved by that. And I just want us to feel that potential for every single infant, toddler, and preschooler who walks through our doors. So, they are a complete and total miracle.

Deborah: So, on that note then. What would you tell our Head Start community if you had your wish for them, especially those participating in Early Head Start or may be even thinking about it. You know, there may be new opportunities for folks to get in at Early Head Start if they're not doing it already. What would be your wish for those programs and those children?

Amanda: I want our teachers and our staff to see themselves as consummate professionals. I want them to know and to be respected and regarded for the incredible work that they do. The challenges, the influence that they have. You know, my own children went to child care when they were very young, and I went back recently and visited with my son. And I said to those teachers, "You are part of this child, you helped raise him. What he is and what be will become is partly because of what you invested in him." It is an incredible honor, and I just want people to feel so proud and filled up with that opportunity. Even though I know it is really, really hard on a day-to-day basis. But it is a professional job that you do that requires not just . It requires education, right? And background and experience, but it also requires this kind of, your characteristics of—of joy, of connection, of relationships, and kind of a belief in the potential of the human being. So, that's what I hope for. How about you?

Deborah: That's a pretty good hope. I was . It's funny, when I asked you that question I was answering it in my head, and I was thinking, and it probably is connected, that what I really wish is that for all of our Early Head Start teachers, that they wake up every day, so excited to go to work, because you have the greatest job. We are honored to have you doing that job and those children and families are so fortunate to have you in their lives. So, that's very connected, right?

Deborah: So, before we go, we have an if you didn't know it already, so I'm going to let you share this one. We've only been doing Early Head Start officially since 1995. And it doesn't get the majority of our funding. But how many children have we touched?

Amanda: We started in 1995, very small. We've had waves ever since, and as of 2019, 3 million children and families have gone through Early Head Start. Thanks to all of you.

Deborah: Three million. That's fantastic. So, we're going to close with our traditional saying. Remember, Head Start is access to the American dream. Help me with this one.

OHS convenes Tribal Consultation sessions as required by Section 640(1)(4) of the Head Start Act and in conformity with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tribal Consultation Policy. The consultations provide a forum for discussing how to better meet the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native children and families. Tribal Consultation reports Visit disclaimer page reflect comments and recommendations raised by tribal leaders and their representatives, comments and responses from OHS, and areas identified at the Tribal Consultations as requiring follow-up by OHS.

OHS submits Reports to Congress Visit disclaimer page on various topics, including the monitoring and Designation Renewal systems, pursuant to the Head Start Act.

Urban Renewal

The mass exodus to suburbia after World War II left many major cities in poor condition. Affordable, dependable housing was hard to find, especially for the poor.

The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 provided federal funds to cities for urban renewal and development. For cities to receive the funds, they had to establish minimum housing standards.

The law also provided easier access to home mortgages and a controversial rent-subsidy program for vulnerable Americans who qualified for public housing.

50 years later, recalling a founder of Head Start

Intrigued by his work, Lady Bird Johnson invited Bronfenbrenner to tea at the White House, where he shared his findings on early childhood programs he had observed abroad. In January 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver empaneled 13 experts – including Bronfenbrenner – to develop a federally funded preschool program for the nation’s poorest children.

In May 1965, federal Head Start was born, announced in a Rose Garden speech by Johnson. “Five- and six-year-old children are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators,” the president said. “Unless we act, these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark.”

In its first summer, the six-week program reached 500,000 youngsters in the 50 years since, it has provided 32 million infants, toddlers and preschoolers with health, educational and family support services. On May 18, the National Head Start Association will mark the milestone by planting rose bushes at programs nationwide and celebrating with members of Congress.

Among Head Start’s architects, Bronfenbrenner stood out for his dynamic systems theory of human development – which became synonymous with the field of human ecology and inspired the renaming of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology in 1969. A champion of field-based observations in children’s homes, schools and neighborhoods, Bronfenbrenner upended the conventions of mid-20th century developmental psychology, which had taken a decontextualized, sterilized approach.

For Bronfenbrenner, it wasn’t enough to look narrowly at children. To understand the effect of a mother’s employment on a child’s development, for example, he urged investigators to consider the child’s age, the quality of daycare in the mother’s absence, her attitude toward her work, the family’s race and income level and the father’s employment status and attitude toward his partner’s work and family duties.

On the Cornell faculty from 1948 until his death in 2005, Bronfenbrenner formulated a theory of human development that reflects not only individual personalities and potential, but also the dynamic interplay among members of the family, the family’s place in their neighborhood and community, that community’s place and the pervasive influence of macrosystem factors, including social policy, the legal system and economic trends.

“He wanted us to include the real-world messiness that we were intent on excluding, because at that time we thought of it as methodological noise,” said longtime collaborator Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology.

As the extended family of the 19th century gave way to increasingly fractured variants, Bronfenbrenner campaigned for policies to bolster and sustain the family as society’s most vital building block through programs like Head Start minimum income programs for impoverished families paid leave for new parents and flexible work hours for those with older children affordable, high-quality childcare gun control and universal health care.

“Urie was a grand theorist whose theories were reflected in the comprehensive nature of Head Start, in the recognition of the need to support families and enrich the educational experiences of children and take care of children’s emotional and physical well-being,” says Jeanette Valentine, Ph.D ’76, co-author of “Head Start: A Legacy of the War on Poverty.”

A proponent for the power of family ties to help children reach their full potential, Bronfenbrenner saw Head Start as a buffer against the stress experienced by impoverished parents. Day care would allow parents to spend more time with their children, forming the passionate attachments he saw as a cornerstone of lifelong success.

“Every kid,” Bronfenbrenner frequently declared, “needs at least one adult who is crazy about him.”

Adapted from a spring 2015 issue of Human Ecology magazine by freelance writer Sharon Tragaskis.

The Head Start Model

The premise of Head Start is simple: every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to reach their full potential.

When Head Start was first launched in 1965, the idea of providing comprehensive health, nutrition, and education services to children in poverty was revolutionary, if not radical. The Head Start Model, developed over the decades has been built on evidence-based practices and is constantly adapting—using the best available science and teaching techniques to meet the needs of local communities.

The Whole Child

Head Start programs offer an ideal laboratory for the study of effective child development and learning. The Department of Health and Human Services funds extensive research every year that reinvigorates practices, ensuring that programs meet children's needs by creating a deep understanding of how they learn and what supports healthy development. Children enter Head Start with serious socioeconomic disadvantages that can hold them back for life.

The Whole Family

Head Start supports families facing difficult circumstances and seeks to mitigate obstacles to learning in the early years.

Flash forward 50 years, President Barack Obama in his 2014 State of the Union address called for more focused and dedicated work to ensure vulnerable children and families have access to high quality care and education in their earliest years. His FY2016 budget, included a commitment to expand and strengthen child care and early education programs, specifically increasing the duration of Head Start to a full school day and year. Clearly, providing early learning opportunities for at-risk children has become not only a focal point for lawmakers, but a shared national commitment.


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Watch the video: I Gave a 20 Second Head Start and Won Last Second!! (January 2022).