Hundreds attend Head Start summit

It was a packed house at the Alachua County Head Start Parent Summit Program.

AARON DAYE/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 7:23 p.m.

If there were ever any doubts about parentsí enthusiasm and interest in the education of children in the Head Start program, those doubts were dispelled last Wednesday by the outpouring of support from nearly 700 Head Start family members who braved rainy weather to attend the Parent Summit Program at Rawlings Elementary School.

"I'm excited and celebrating that so many parents came," said Ann Crowell, director for the Head Start Program in Alachua County. "I thought the rainy weather would dampen the event, but it has not.

"We don't get this (kind) of parent involvement these days, and you (participants) have made a statement that Head Start parents are involved."

The keynote speaker, Dr. Naima Prince, a sociology professor at Santa Fe Community College, discussed the importance of parental support in order for a child to achieve success. She also drew from her own experiences as a Head Start child to encourage parents and students to use the resources that are available through Head Start.

Created in 1965, the Head Start Program provides a comprehensive child development program to needy children ages 3-5 to prepare them intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically for school and life. The program provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to the children and their families.

"Your presence tells me you are committed to your child's success," said Prince. "We know knowledge is power and at the end of this evening, I want you to feel empowered."

Prince said her family is a living example of how a partnership between parents and Head Start can work to provide opportunities.

"My mom was a single teen parent and I was a Head Start child," said Prince, adding that her mother began volunteering at her Head Start site, and with the help and encouragement of the staff there, got her GED, and eventually a job with Head Start. In fact, she still works for Head Start as a family service representative in Philadelphia.

"We are certainly a Head Start family, and we took advantages of the resources (offered through the program)," said Prince. "My sister was the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I went to college, got my masterís and a Ph.D. and I have traveled to China, Brazil, Spain and Africa to give lectures."

To illustrate her message with something tangible, Prince provided each family unit in the audience with one little toy car. She then told them to dream they had just won a brand new 2008 automobile. The point of this exercise was to compare how care and maintenance can result in a "classic," while neglect can turn the car into a "hoopty."

She related an automobile's maintenance schedule to Head Start services and resources such as nutrition, conflict resolution, health care, dental care and parenting classes.

"I'm offering services for your child to be a classic," said Prince. "Head Start wants to help get your kids on the right track."

Besides Prince's powerful message, the participants were treated to a musical program featuring Head Start students, dance routines by the LaVern Porter Dancers, and songs by local musician Joy Banks. They were also treated to pizza, fruit and drinks.

And despite the crowded conditions, the parents were happy to be there.

"This will be something the kids will always remember," said Bonnie Glover. "It will boost the children's self-esteem to see their parents and family come here to support them."

"I think it is so wonderful that so many parents came out," said Jennifer Scott.

"It was a good program to get the message out that we have to start educating our children early, before kindergarten," said Horace Freeman, master of ceremonies for the program and a Head Start pre-school specialist.

Crowell said the summit was designed to demonstrate that it takes a village to educate a child. She said local agencies and businesses donated their resources to make the Parent Summit a success.

"We are very grateful to the Gainesville community for supporting the children and families of the Head Start Program," said Crowell. "It takes us all to make an impression on our children so that they will be successful. We can't prepare kids for success without the parents and the community."

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