Contact Person: Maura Burke
The Early Head Start/Family and Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP)/Head Start is an income eligible program for children six weeks to 4 years old, their families and pregnant women living in Fairfax County. The purpose of this program is to empower families, schools, and the community in a collaborative effort to promote school readiness and later student achievement by providing children six weeks to 4 years old with a quality prekindergarten education experience.
Academic researchers in child development have long theorized that children's health and mental health are linked to later academic success, not to mention the general ability to become active citizens who can cope with life's challenges. This idea has anchored Head Start's identity as a child development program. The comprehensive service (health, nutrition, mental health, child development education and family engagement) is modeled after the ecological model of Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). The ecological model recognizes that children do not exist in isolation away from the family and community in which they live. Henderson and Map's (2002) research acknowledges the importance of family in a child's education and posit that family engagement is twice as predictive of student success as socio-economic status. Their work complements Bronfenbrenner’s theory that suggests when working with children, a holistic approach that offers children a variety of supports and experiences in all of their environments is critical to their development and potentially closing the achievement gap.
In addition, a deeper understanding of brain development (approximately 90% of brain development occurs before a child turns five) and the research that indicates a quality prekindergarten experiences is directly related to later academic and life success suggests the importance of the comprehensive services. Research shows that poor nutrition and health (mental and physical) can negatively impact brain development and that children who attend high-quality preschools are more likely to finish high school, be employed, contribute to the tax base, own a home and are less likely to be incarcerated (Barnett, 1992 & Reynolds, 1996).
The FECEP/Head Start/Early Head Start comprehensive service model offers a variety of experiences to children and thier families.
- Family Engagement: The program offers parents multiple opportunities to engage in their child’s education including goal setting for the child and family, educational family meetings and volunteering.
- Nutrition: Children and families participate in nutrition education programs including family style nutritional dining at school, grocery tours and budget conscious healthy cooking experiences.
- Health: The program monitors children’s health by reviewing health records and developing health plans (when needed) and screening vision and hearing. Preventative and responsive education programs are offered to families (e.g., “I Can Keep My Child Healthy”) and children participate in activities (e.g., brushing teeth daily) to learn to keep themselves health.
- Mental Health: Teachers and families complete a fall and spring screening total that measures potential risk factors. Teaching teams receive extensive professional development to promote protector factors.
- Child Development: The program curriculum, PreK Program of Studies, is aligned with the K-12 Program of Studies and the assessment is aligned with the POS. Teaching teams receive regular professional development on early childhood best practices.
The preschool program (3-4 year olds) has four funding sources, federal Head Start and Title I, Virginia Preschool Initiative and Local grant fund that serve a total of 1347 children. The FECEP/Head Start program is located in 59 elementary schools and 3 High/Secondary Schools. The latter is a collaboration with the high school Family and Consumer Sciences course, Early Childhood Careers.
The Early Head Start program serves 48 infants, toddlers and pregnant women in 3 elementary schools.
For more detailed information on Early Head Start/FECEP/Head Start budget see Attachment B in the Early Head Start/FECEP/Head Start Advisory Committee's 2012 report to the School Board.