Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Parental involvement key to Head Start

by A.J. Hakim Staff Writer

January 10, 2013

Back in July of 2011, a month after Head Start’s initial rejection, then-board president, John Steininger, in defending his stance against implementing the program at Poupard Elementary School, referenced a TIME magazine article claiming the fading nature of the program’s positive effects on children’s academic performance.

Studies have found, the article said, effects vanish after first grade. And while many of the program’s critics most often cite such studies for their main arguments, advocates point to other research that focuses on more long-lasting effects, such as the increase in parental involvement in a child’s education, both during and after the program. Parental involvement, Poupard principal Penny Stocks and others say, is a key component to the program’s success.

“There’s so much more than really meets the eye,” said Stocks, who was an outspoken supporter of having the program in the district. “The parents have to get involved and that’s really the key. Teaching these parents how to get involved with their kids, how to read to their kids at night, just how to be better parents. That’s actually, to me, even more beneficial for the kids.”

A recent study in the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed data collected between 2002 and 2006 of a group of about 4,000 children, 3- to 4-years old, 60 percent of which attended Head Start and the other 40 percent other early childhood programs. The study found that parents of Head Start children tended to read more regularly to their children, practice the alphabet more, play more math games, keep more notes on their child’s progress and attend more art galleries or museums, in part because “parents perceive their involvement to be complementary with child schooling in the production of child qualities.”

Teresa Harrington, Head Start Director at Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency and former Head Start parent, attributes this to the program’s emphasis on and encouraging of educating and involving parents in the day-to-day operations.

““We help them see what their child’s strengths are,” Harrington said. “We’re able to educate them on child development and appropriate expectations and age-appropriate activities.

“Not only are the parents involved in their children’s education, their education planning, but they’re involved in the staff that we hire, they’re involved in the menu planning, they’re involved in the budgeting of the program. So parents earn a lot of skills, too.”

Harrington worked with Stocks to coordinate the program at Poupard, which opened to 20 Grosse Pointe families this past September. Still in its infancy, it’s uncertain the lasting impact the local program will have on children’s academic performance, but in the few months she’s worked as lead co-teacher, Maggie Schumaker already sees improvements in the children and their parents.

“You can tell that their parents work with them at home as well,” Schumaker said. “Their parents are really interested in what we do in the classroom, they try to do those same things at home as far as the techniques I use to get my kids to write their name or their letters. The parents, while they’re volunteering, they observe and then they do the same things at home.”