Head Start--the federal program designed to help preschool children overcome obstacles to learning, reading, and development presented by poverty--is about to turn 40. The blueprint, developed by a federal task force in 1964, became an eight-week summer program in 1965 and has been going strong ever since. Libraries have partnered with Head Start programs nationwide, finding themselves both a resource for and beneficiary of the relationships with community agencies and the families that participate.
"By working with Head Start, we gained access to part of our community that was least familiar with what we had to offer, but needed us most," said Katherine Collins, regional supervisor for the Moore and Mottet branches of the Tacoma (Wash.) Public Library. "We began an outreach project to the Hispanic community that incorporated a partnership with our local Head Start group, but was also open to the public. Bilingual storytimes and the Hispanic outreach project were better because of the involvement of Head Start kids, parents, and teachers."
The library partnered with Suzanne Livingston, a teacher with McKinley Elementary School's Head Start. Librarian Laura Shomshak from the Mottet branch presents stories, songs, and activities in both English and Spanish, promoting literacy in both languages--plus, the kids get into the habit of visiting the library. About two-thirds of the 19 children enrolled in the program are native Spanish speakers, and the last bilingual storytime drew an audience nearly double the size of the Head Start group alone. The library also developed and increased bilingual and Spanish materials in its collection, so families would have things to read and do together.
"We asked what they wanted to see more of, and listened carefully to them," Collins said. "We've seen a dramatic increase in library usage by the kids and their families. After the first three bilingual storytimes, 90% of the Head Start families had library cards; before bilingual storytimes it was zero. Once we reached the kids, the parents followed. The Head Start parents group held meetings here.
They also brought older brothers and sisters with them. Their leaders invited talks from the librarians about library services, literacy, etc. Families are more comfortable visiting the library now, and our staff has learned a lot, too."
Tacoma is far from alone in the state, …