Angel Taveras: I was one of millions Head Start helped

By Angel Taveras –

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce a revolutionary federal program — part of his “unconditional war on poverty” — that would provide low-income children with comprehensive early childhood education services to support their mental, social and emotional development in the first five years of life. Today, half a century later, Head Start centers across the country are planting rose bushes to commemorate this historic anniversary and renew our shared commitment to ensuring a brighter future for all our nation’s children.

This milestone hits close to home for me in a big way, as I was once a Head Start kid. My mother and father were both immigrants from the Dominican Republic who worked tirelessly in factories to put food on our table and clothes on our backs. Always looking for ways to help her children succeed, my mother enrolled me in the local Head Start program, where I received nutritious meals, was taught critical school readiness skills and had the opportunity to interact with other children my age.

Head Start helped me get comfortable with school, so when I entered kindergarten I was confident and ready to learn. This early love of learning served as a driving force throughout my academic career and continues to inspire both my career and my commitment to my community today.

I made my way from Head Start to Harvard, where I discovered that my roommate from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., as well as many of our peers who grew up facing the challenges of poverty, had the same story to tell. We all knew then that there must be something special about Head Start. Abounding research confirms the life-changing impact comprehensive early childhood education can have on at-risk children. Head Start kids are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college, have lower incarceration rates and are even less likely to face life-threatening health conditions such as obesity.

In addition to the incredible impact early childhood education has on children and families, investing in early learning makes economic sense. As mayor of Providence, I made expanding early learning a cornerstone of my education plan for the city. Thanks to Bloomberg Philanthropies, we launched Providence Talks and set out to close the 30-million-word gap that research shows exists between children growing up in low- and high-income households. We now know how critical the first three years of life are for our children.

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