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Total Community Action, Incorporated celebrates Head Start: 50 Years of Opportunity

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Total Community Action, Inc, (TCA) was incorporated in December, 1964 as the local community action agency. TCA is a private nonprofit human services organization dedicated to “helping people, changing lives, and improving communities”. Our mission is to reduce poverty in our community by providing human services, experiences, and opportunities that move persons from poverty to self-sufficiency.

Today, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Head Start, a building block to success for children and families to self-sufficiency. Head Start was launched by President Lyndon Johnson’s administration on May 18, 1965 in the famous White House Rose Garden. From a national summer project that enrolled 561,000 children nationally in 1965, Head Start has grown into a comprehensive child development program providing educational, social, nutritional, and health services for America’s low-income children and their families. Over its 50-year history, Head Start’s success stories with children and families are legendary. An untold story, however, is the vital part community partnerships and collaborations have played in Head Start’s success over the years that includes health and mental health providers, and other agencies that provide services to children with disabilities, child protective services, childcare organizations, and local schools, colleges and universities.

In New Orleans, Project Pre-kindergarten was developed by TCA and subcontracted to the Orleans Parish School Board for administration in late 1965. The objective was to deliver an education experience and to prepare each child for his or her entrance into the established education system. Since that time TCA, its delegate agencies, and its child care partners, have enrolled more than 6800 four year old children in three Summer Head Start programs and 114,500 infants, toddlers, three year and four year old children in its Head Start and Early Head Start programs. This means that when extrapolated, TCA and Head Start has impacted the lives of more that forty percent of New Orleanians over the 50 years of its existence.

TCA has a distinguished history in the early child development community. Before the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the agency administered the largest Head Start and Early Head Start programs in the state of Louisiana, enrolling 2618 Head Start children and 204 Early Head Start pregnant women, infant, and toddlers in 29 Head Start centers, two (2) Head Start/Early Head Start centers, four (4) Early Head Start centers, eight (8) Family Child Care homes, and three (3) child care partner sites. While some contraction has occurred, the program still serves over 2,400 children annually, and is still the largest grantee in the state.

TCA operates fifteen Head Start Centers throughout the New Orleans and five Early Head Start Centers. TCA also contracts with other partners in the community to provide additional Head Start and Early Head services at Kingsley House, Catholic Charities, Urban League, Covenant House, Central City EOC, and Orleans Parish School Board. Additionally, TCA pays for Head Start/Early Head Start slots at Dryades YMCA, Royal Castle, Giggles Child Development Center, and Happy Kids Pre-School.

From its beginnings, Head Start has involved parents in every aspect of the program as volunteers. Thousands of parents volunteer for our programs each year. In 2014, parents donated over 550,000 volunteer hours to support the Head Start program. They may help teachers supervise children’s play, tell them stories or go on field trips. Parents receive training on how to encourage and support their children’s development. They also receive services through Head Start such as job, ESL, or literacy training. Many gain the confidence to return to school or seek better jobs. This program provides preschool aged children of low-income families a comprehensive education program and helps families break the cycle of poverty.

Producing Positive Outcomes

Research has shown that the educational head start provided to students in Head Start has had a positive impact on their subsequent school performances. It is a fact that TCA’s Head Start approach to education was neither known, nor in general use in the New Orleans area in the late sixties. Today, it is part of elementary schools’, high schools’ and colleges’ standard operating procedures. Families in the Total Community Action, Inc. Head Start and Early Head Start program are proving that having their children enrolled in the program affords them the opportunity to focus on making strides toward self-sufficiency. Throughout the history of this program parents have achieved goals which they have set to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.

Over the last three years child outcomes data shows that our children enter Head Start with a significant deficit in the areas of language and literacy, approaches to learning and cognition and general knowledge, due mostly to the lack of consistent exposure and enrichment in those areas. Yet by mid-year our children show marked performance in those areas, as well as in the other three essential domains, as our teachers provide individualization and scaffolding techniques, exceptional teacher-child interactions, research-based curricula, developmentally appropriate practices and strong parental involvement.

In program year 2013-2014 parents experienced the kind of success which has long lasting impact on family development. Forty-eight parents, who were previously unemployed, obtained employment; while thirty-one parents acquired better paying jobs. Many of the latter were a direct result of enrolling in or completing educational programs. One parent secured a job in photography which allows her the opportunity to travel to other parts of the country for short periods of time. Program data shows that seventy-two parents participated in career development programs including radiology, social work, dialysis certification, respiratory therapy, early childhood education, accounting, biology, sociology, business, cosmetology, medical coding, food service, bartending, nursing, emergency medical services, and health care administration, including one parent who completed the Culinary Arts School in New York and now works as a Chef in New Orleans. Additionally, thirty-four parents earned degrees or licensing in criminal justice, graphic design, psychology, dental assistant, clinical nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse, mortician, commercial driver, and medical assistant. Four parents have started businesses of their own—in transportation, hair care, on-line clothing and accessories, and insurance sales. Three other parents earned their driver’s licenses. For some these represent small items but for others they represent small successes that can began the path to a successful future.

In 2013, TCA enthusiastically entered the new Head Start redesignation with a strong presence and a steady history of positive results. We proposed a realigned program that assist children in a comprehensive birth to five program designed to prepare students for entering kindergarten and to assist families to achieve their self sufficiency goals using a Two Generation approach to provide comprehensive services focused on positive family outcomes and long term sustainability of gains.

Nationally, Head Start has given more than 31 million children an opportunity for success in school and life during the past 50 years. After more than four plus decades of exemplary program administration and operation have been based on our accomplishments are many, our impact is wide, and our history as a change-maker is without question. What we do is provide the building blocks towards self-sufficiency. By doing it right, we literally change lives.

Finally, in celebration of the fifty years of the window of opportunity for our nation’s most at risk children and families, TCA will join others on Monday, May 18th, to plant a rose bush in front of each of our Head Start centers.

TCA Opportunity Center

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Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act

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