ST. PETERSBURG – Last month, the Pinellas County Annual Head Start Advantage held its Annual Awards and Awareness Luncheon, presented by Lutheran Services Florida, at the Coliseum. This yearly event is a report on the progress of their programs.
Founded as a summer program in 1965 to aid children of low-income households, Head Start and Early Head Start programs today serve over a million children nationwide. They aim to provide comprehensive services to children ages and social services for their families.
The Pinellas Head Start and Early Head Start programs seek to ensure that young children receive the quality early education that they deserve, and strive to make them school ready to face all academic challenges. Head Start Pinellas funds programs from south St. Pete to Tarpon Springs.
“I’m blessed and fortunate to serve in a world where I have the opportunity to be a part of the very children and families that Head Start aims to lift up,” said Leah McRae, Esq., director of Education and Community Engagement for the City of St. Petersburg, adding that the Head Start program is one of the longest-running programs that address poverty in our communities.
Louis Finney, Jr., executive vice president of LSF, noted that he is a former Head Start child.
“I know firsthand the benefit of a program that helps people of poverty and particularly people of color to be successful,” he said.
Dr. Ricardo Davis, director of Bay Area Head Start and Early Head Start, offered the Pinellas Head Start Program report.
“Our goal is to have children ready for school and prepared for life,” he said of the program, stressing that parents and staff work together to deliver comprehensive services and early childhood development and education.
Through a series of assessments taken throughout the year and data analysis, the program aims to get young children ready for school. For the 2016-17 academic year, Head Start children scored above the national average in the areas of social-emotional, physical, cognitive, language, literacy and math skills, Davis pointed out.
“In fact,” he stated, “90 percent of our kindergarten were school ready, and we should celebrate that!”
Parent and family engagement in Head Start is about building relationships, Davis explained, with “families that support family well-being, strong relationships between parents and their children and ongoing learning and development for both parents and their children.”
Families play a critical role for a lifetime of academic success, so the program uses a family survey assessment to assess, monitor and track areas of interest such as family wellbeing, positive parent-child relationships and families as learners and lifelong educators.
Mistress of ceremonies Kimberly Jackson, Esq. from St. Petersburg College lauded Davis for his commitment to the community and “the collaborative approach he always takes about the education of our youth and how vital it is for the continuity of our community.”
Awards were presented to parents, volunteers, corporate and corporate sponsors for ensuring the organization continues to be a success. And as the afternoon wrapped up, Head Start employees, who formed a gospel-singing choir, took to the stage and reminded everyone that they are an organization that puts God first.