Head Start celebrates 58 years of early childhood learning

Published 11:43 am Thursday, May 25, 2023

By James W. Robinson

Staff Writer

The Children’s Center is joining with other Head Start programs across the U.S. May 18 to celebrate the program’s 58 years of providing early learning to more than 30 million children since 1965. 

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Head Start programs provide children from low income families the opportunity to succeed in school, while also fostering their development with health and family wellbeing. 

The Children’s Center Director of Head Start Tamie Rittenhouse discussed providing services across the Western Tidewater area for the City of Suffolk, as well as Isle of Wight, Franklin and Southampton counties.

“We provide a continuum of services across all of Western Tidewater including pregnant women, infants and toddlers, and preschoolers,” Rittenhouse said. “Our Home Based program provides home visits supporting pregnant women in healthy pregnancy outcomes, and educational services supporting parents in teaching their infants and toddlers at home. Our Center Based services for infants, toddlers and preschoolers offers a classroom based teaching daily, where trained educators implement lesson plans focused on teaching developmentally appropriate skills to children through hands-on experiences.”

Rittenhouse said educational screenings are completed for all children to assure that lesson plans are developed to target skills that each child is ready to learn.

“Teachers also communicate with parents so that they can continue supporting the learning process at home.” she said.

Rittenhouse said Head Start offers a “holistic approach” to supporting the entire family as the core of the child’s development.

“Head Start has a strong focus on health and family stability. All children receive educational and health screenings, as well as support in obtaining any needed health or other services to support the child’s needs.,” she said. “The program assures that the family has access to health insurance, as well as healthcare and dental providers.”

Rittenhouse said family stability is supported by assisting the family in goal setting, training and support services to help achieve goals such as job attainment/advancement, stable or improved housing conditions, and financial stability to name a few. 

“This approach to supporting the child and the family is what makes Head Start different than other early childhood programs that only focus on the educational component,” she said. “A healthy child can learn better, and a strong family foundation can help sustain that child’s education over time.”

Prior to her work with Head Start, Rittenhouse discussed her early career as a speech-language pathologist, helping youngsters “overcome communication barriers.” It was then that she quickly learned that working with children once or twice a week wasn’t enough for an impactful difference.

“The early intervention model taught me that what was really going to make a difference was working with the child and the family,” she explained. “This model teaches the family to reinforce the therapy techniques at home all throughout the week so that the child is constantly being supported as they learn new skills.”

Rittenhouse said her growth as a professional helped her take on “leadership and management responsibilities” in programs such as early intervention and pediatric rehabilitation at the Children’s Center.

“When the Director of the Early Head Start program became available, this was an opportunity for me to grow in providing leadership for services to children and families all across Western Tidewater,” she said.

Rittenhouse is pleased to be a part of Head Start’s 58th birthday.

“I am so proud to be part of a national program with such a deep and rich history of supporting children and families in supporting them through their challenges to become stronger and thrive in their communities,” she said. “Thus, Head Start serves to make the community stronger as a whole!”

For more information on Head Start Programs in the Western Tidewater area, visit childrenscenterva.com or facebook.com/TheChildrensCenterVA. More on the history of Head Start can be found at bit.ly/3W6R8dA.