During my last term at Portland Community College I was tasked with doing volunteer work in my community. I wasn’t sure initially which theme I would choose, but I quickly decided that I was most passionate about education, and especially learning how to read. As someone who struggled to read during my K through 3rd grade years, I know the value of literacy acutely. It was the key to my academic success, since I do not process verbal instructions as smoothly. Additionally, my mastery of literacy lead to a greater level of emotional well-being, as I eventually started writing to express myself.
While volunteering with The Children’s Book Bank in Portland, Oregon I realized that they distribute a large amount of books to children who are in Head Start programs. I knew that Head Start had been facing budget cuts in recent years and wondered at the impact volunteers have in vouching for the importance of the program. It may seem to some as if we shouldn’t volunteer with federally funded programs. Some people who believe in their mission to prepare children for school physically, socially, cognitively, and emotionally may believe that their tax dollar contributions to the program should be enough. I would argue, though, that it is important to volunteer directly with Head Start, and through programs that donate to Head Start, because investments of time show a personal commitment to the cause. These direct actions show the politicians making budget decisions that this program matters to the voters, which means that they be less likely to propose cuts later. Actions speak louder than words, but they also speak louder than automatic monetary deductions from someone’s paycheck, since one involves choice while the other does not. It is a vote in favor of affordable early childhood education before the question is ever even raised by the policy makers.
Sources Supporting That It is Time Well Spent
Children First of Oregon. (2014). 2014 Status Report: The Status of Children in Oregon. Portland, Oregon. An accumulation of research released by Children First of Oregon, which describes the relationship between economic security, childhood education, and health (including child abuse patterns).
This report helps to explain why it is so important that children have access to programs such as Head Start, but that they are merely a beginning, since they do not cover all children who are of the Pre-K age group.
“Head Start: About Us” US Department of Health and Human Services. Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, 27 April 2016. Web. 1 June 2016. This is the Head Start Program information available through the Us Department of Health and Human Services. It mentions may of the resources available through Head Start and is worth looking at. Here is the link https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/about.
Samuels, Christina A. “Proposal To Boost Head Start Hours, Year-Length Draws Concern.” Education Week 35.4 (2015): 21-24. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 June 2016. This article covers a proposal to increase the daily duration hours and length of Head Start throughout the year. It provides some of the pros and cons of making changes to the program, though, without significantly increasing funding to keep the same amount of children covered by the program. It is perhaps a question of quality over quantity, though a difficult one to make regardless.
I plan to use to article to show that there is more than just a need for the Head Start program as it exists, but also for an improvement to the program. Volunteer work could help make these improvements more affordable. Additionally, it shows that people care about the educating of low-income children.
The Children’s Book Bank. Web. 1 June 2008. This is the website for the Children’s Book Bank it is a viable volunteer opportunity, which contributes to the Head Start Program.
Kavanagh, Vickie “You Can Help: volunteer and donation opportunities.” Oregon Live, The Oregonian. 5 February 2014. Web. 1 June 2016.
Why We Need Head Start and How It Can get Better?
The Head Start program is the only public Pre-K program in Oregon; however, according to the 2015 Progress Report released by Children’s First of Oregon every two years it leaves 65% of eligible children without service. Clearly, the program could use more funding so that it can cover more low income families, including children who already have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). These at risk children must cover 10% of the enrollment to ensure that the children who most need the program (those who are already struggling), get the assistance they need (Children First). It is unfortunate that this requirement should be needed as all children who qualify should be able to attend.
Additionally, children who attend Head Start experience a lower risk of abuse, since the home visits help teach parents how to parent better, so that they can develop more loving and supportive relationships with their children. There are a total of 11 home visit programs in Oregon, but according to Children’s First of Oregon (CFO) they only serve 15% of the children in greatest need. This is an important issue to Oregon specifically since the CFO’s Progress Report found that our child abuse rate has fallen by only 2% in the last decade, while the national rate has decreased by 25% (Children First).
The Head Start programs also helps kids in ways that are indirectly related to their ability to receive an excellent education. The program works with other nonprofits and government programs which provide children with food, medical and dental, and counseling services. Children who are hungry, struggling with emotional problems, and ill are less able to concentrate on their school work, so Head Start works as a resource distribution program for the parents of children who would not normally be in school yet (Head Start: About Us) .
While the Head Start program is more effective than no pre-school at all, there are still improvements than need to be made, although it is important that if costly changes occur then funding must be increased. If this does not occur, then even fewer eligible children will be covered. This really doesn’t feel like it would be an overall improvement! An example of this issue was reported by Christina Samuels in an article from Education week, which mentions the proposal by the Obama Administration to create a full-day Pre-K program. The National Head Start Program claimed that if congress complied with the 10.1 billion in Head Start funding then the program would not have to cut any of their enrollment numbers. They reported that if they did not receive the funding they needed, then they would have to cover 126,000 fewer children and fire 9,400 teachers (Samuels). At a time when we are seeking to improve the program it does not seem like we should be cutting the teachers. We must reach an appropriate balance which covers enough children and also provides a valuable education for them. There must be a balance between quality and quantity, while we attempt to make the program better. It is obvious to see that volunteers could be a great help when it comes to accomplishing this.
What You can do to Help!
- Locally the Children’s Book Bank is a great non-profit that distributes 15 books in special bags to Head Start children in Portland Oregon. You can volunteer to clean books through Hands on Portland at the 1728 NE Glisan Street location or drop off donations at the same location. I have attended 3 of their book cleaning parties with my young daughters (ages 9 and 11), and we enjoyed cleaning and looking at all of the books that needy children would receive. The program also donates books to older children through many of the schools which receive lower funding in Portland
- The Gladstone Center for Children and Families need your help with their Head Start program! This would be an excellent opportunity to help the program directly. They are looking for volunteers to contribute an hour or two per week. This work would involve watching children during playtime, helping children master their literacy skills, and assisting with art creating. To volunteer you can Contact Susan Trone at 503-496-3939.