The mission of Pennsylvania Head Start is as follows: “Pennsylvania Head Start Association’s purpose is to maximize the cumulative talents of Early Head Start/Head Start parents, staff, administrators and friends to collectively improve the future for economically challenged children, families and communities, by providing quality leadership, training, information and advocacy at the local, state, regional and national levels.” (Pennsylvania Head Start Association, 2016).
Chester County Intermediate Unit has multiple Head Start locations throughout Chester County Pennsylvania.
The location discussed in this paper is known as the Coatesville Head Start at the Gordon Early Literacy Center. During my interview with Claudette Williams, classroom teacher at Coatesville Head Start, she shared the Agency structure. The Gordan Early Literacy Center is owned by the Coatesville Area School district and separated into thirds (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). One third of the building belongs to Chester County Intermediate Unit’s Coatesville Head Start program, another third belongs to the Coatesville Area School District’s preschool program and the last third belongs to the United Way UNIFY program (C.
Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams shared that there is a top-down concept at Head Start.
In the article The 5 Types of Organizational Structure, Jacob Morgan (2015), describes the traditional hierarchy as a structure that does not leave room for open communication between directors and staff and often times does not allow management the opportunity to explore staff’s triumphs and struggles in the workplace. At Head Start Coatesville, there is a director named, Tamara Acuna, who runs the Coatesville Head Start program (C.
Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Below Ms. Acuna, there is a practice-based coach named, Jen, who works in the classroom with teachers to support students. Jen is the liaison between the classroom teachers and the director, Ms. Acuna (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). The top-down concept of the agency structure creates barriers in communication between classroom staff and the director which causes staff to have less opportunities to provide their input and share ideas to improve agency services (Morgan, 2015).
There are 8 classrooms in the Head Start Coatesville building and each classroom has a teacher, family service worker and a classroom aide. Each classroom teacher is responsible for up to 20 children as well as providing full day preschool education and being in regular communication with parents (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams shared she has a classroom aide who is bilingual as 11 of her children in her class this school year came into preschool only speaking Spanish and also has a family service worker in her classroom (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). The role of the family service worker is to complete home visits with families and work directly with the parents to ensure they are connected with community resources and are able to meet the needs of their children in the home (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
Organizational culture can be defined in many different ways. In the book, Changing Organizational Culture, Alvesson and Sveningsson (2016) describe organizational culture as the values behind the behavior of the staff in a specific organization. The culture of the agency is why the agency does the work that they do (Alvesson et al., 2016). One factor of organizational culture at Head Start Coatesville is moral authority. The goal in creating the Head Start program was to better prepare children for kindergarten and give each child an equal opportunity to succeed both educationally and in their community (Zigler et al., 2010). Head Start began after the Economic Opportunity Act was passed in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson (Zigler et al., 2010).
The goal of the program was not only to prepare children for kindergarten but to improve life outcomes of children living in poverty (Zigler et al., 2010). This history has shaped the culture of Head Start programs around the United States. During my interview with Ms. Williams, she described she is motivated to be an agent in changing the lives and futures of children and giving each child the chance to have equal educational opportunities (C. Williams, personal community, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams shared that many of the teachers at Head Start have values that align with the Head Start mission, which creates a moral authority for her to continue to work at Head Start where she is pouring into the futures of the disadvantaged children (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
Another aspect of organizational culture at Head Start is the climate of the office. Ms. Williams described her work environment to have an open-door policy and stated there is always someone who is willing to listen and help if there is ever an issue in the classroom, with parents or between staff members (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams described the office as structured in regard to the school day and schedule, but shared there is always open communication in the building. Ms. Williams described feeling safe, comfortable and supported at work (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
The last factor that contributes to the organizational culture at Head Start is worker acculturation. As noted previously, Ms. Williams reported feeling safe and supported in her work environment and attributed these feelings to the on-going training she receives at work, regular supervision and communication with her supervisor (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams shared she is regularly able to attend training both inside and outside of her work setting and feels new workers are well trained before assuming their job responsibilities (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
At times information is withheld from staff when people are fired from the agency as this is a human resources issue which cannot be discussed with existing staff members (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams did share that when staff resign they are usually open with their co-workers about why they are leaving, and the agency is supportive of staff moving on to future career endeavors (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Overall, the Head Start culture appears to be supportive of new and experienced staff members, values staff development and training, and believes there is a moral authority to support low-income children and their families and provide them with equal opportunities both educationally and in their community.
Head Start Coatesville offers many services to families to improve kindergarten readiness and support families outside the school setting. One service Head Start provides to families is preschool education to economically disadvantaged children (CCIU, 2002-2018). Ms. Williams shared the beginning of the school year is crucial as this is when the physical exam, vision exam, dental exam, and Brigance Developmental Assessment are completed with each child in the classroom (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). The results of each assessment are shared with parents at the parent-teacher conference which takes place in November each school year (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
At Head Start children are not only taught educational skills, but also life skills, such as how to eat at a table, use of manners in and outside the classroom, and how to share (CCIU, 2002-2018). This service supports the agency’s mission statement by emphasizing the strengths of the children. By educating the children of Head Start in life skills and educational skills the children are able to reach their full potential. This also applies to the parents and families who are a part of Head Start. Parents are made aware of the results of their children’s assessments and provided with resources to address any concerns regarding both their children’s developmental and physical health. This helps parents to also reach their full potential with the guidance of the teacher and family service worker in the Head Start classroom.
Another service Head Start is providing to families is psychological assessments for children through Dr. Andrea M. Delligatti, Ph.D. (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Dr. Delligatti is a licensed psychologist and mediator (Delligatti, 2018). Ms. Williams shared Dr. Delligatti comes into Head Start Coatesville to observe children in the classroom setting and determines which children may need to be in the preschool special education program (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Dr. Delligatti will also assist the school staff in beginning to develop and Individualized Education Plan for any children who may need special accommodations to learn in the classroom. (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
Students are then provided with speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy in the classroom and referred to outside services, through the Chester County Intermediate Unit, if there are behavioral issues in the classroom or the home (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). This service is a critical following the assessments that were previously mentioned which are completed at the beginning of the school year. If there are any findings in the assessments showing the child is not developing at an age appropriate level, Dr. Delligatti then steps in to further assess the children and work with families (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). This supports the Head Start mission by providing families with information to assist them in ensuring their children are getting the appropriate supportive services in school and at home and educating parents on ways to advocate for their children as they navigate the education system.
The last service at Head Start that is meeting family’s needs is the food that is provided at Head Start. Each day children are provided with two meals and a snack at their Head Start location (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). This helps families who may not have been able to afford food for their children each day. Head Start Coatesville also partners with the Chester County Food Bank to provide children with food each week to take home to their families (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). The Chester County Food Bank works with schools all over Chester County to provide weekend backpacks to students who may not have food at home (Chester County Food Bank, 2018). The students are provided with non-perishable items to take home to their families for the days they are not in school (Chester County Food Bank, 2018). This supports the Head Start mission by providing families with the tools they need to make a better future for their children even if the future is just the weekend ahead. This program also provides families with information on the food bank as they can access the food bank services outside of the school setting in their local community.
Head Start Coatesville collaborates with multiple agencies throughout Chester County to provide a variety of services to children and their family. Head Start Coatesville’s collaboration with the Chester County Food Bank was mentioned previously. The children are provided with backpacks filled with food to take home each week through the weekend back pack program (Chester County Food Bank, 2018). In speaking with Ms. Wilson, she shared one of the biggest challenges of this collaboration is that the Chester County Food Bank is supposed to come on a weekly basis, but they do not always show up (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
This could become a barrier for families as many of the families may begin to rely on or expect this food on a weekly basis and if there is a week that the agency does not come to the school the children may not be able to eat over the weekend. Ms. Wilson stated other than the challenge of the food bank not showing up some weeks, the collaboration is a great opportunity for children and their families (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). The families appear to be extremely grateful for this collaboration between the school and the food bank (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Although Ms. Williams did not mention any other barriers, another barrier for the agency could be interrupting children’s routine or class time.
If the food bank is not notifying the school of when they are coming, it is unlikely that they would notify them each time they are coming and the food bank just showing up could interrupt the children’s school day routine. In the article, The Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health Partnership Study: Multisector Partnerships in US Counties with Improving Health Metrics, the authors report that interviewees shared during the collaborative process it is crucial that the group is able to establish a common goal and process for decision-making or the collaboration will not succeed (Zahner et al., 2014). If there continues to be a lack of communication between Head Start staff and the Chester County Food Bank this could lead to more barriers in their collaboration.
Another collaboration Head Start Coatesville has is with an organization called AHHAH which stands for Arts Holding Hands and Hearts Inc. AHHAH’s mission is the provide artistic experiences, mindfulness exercises and unique educational experiences to low income children throughout Chester County (AHHAH, 2018). Ms. Williams shared some the activities that AHHAH provides to the children at Head Start are senior citizen readers, yoga and movement classes, Christmas gifts, music classes with instruments, and free books (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams shared there are multiple challenges in this collaboration one of them being that the senior readers are elderly men and women who are volunteers (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018).
Ms. Williams expressed this is a great concept, but oftentimes the readers do not understand the children’s attention span as the children range in age from 3-5 years old and cannot sit for long periods of time (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Ms. Williams also stated sometimes the children will have many activities with the AHHAH staff in the same day and the children are taken out of their daily class routine and can become overstimulated (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). This program encourages the children to use their artistic abilities and also helps the children with their mental wellbeing through yoga and mindfulness exercises. This likely helps the children to have a better focus when they return to the classroom. Overall this collaboration is beneficial to the children and their families and provides the children with opportunities and experiences they would not have if the AHHAH program did not visit Head Start Coatesville.
A collaboration that would benefit the Head Start Coatesville program is a collaboration with an agency that provides parenting education classes. Family service workers provide services to Head Start Coatesville families, at their homes and in school by connecting them with community resources and ensuring they are able to meet children’s basic needs at home (C. Williams, personal communication, September 16, 2018). Chester County Women’s Services provides free parenting education and discipline classes to families and there is a location in Coatesville, PA, within walking distance of Head Start Coatesville (Chester County Women’s Services, 2018). This is a non-profit agency and parents are also provided with parent money for attending classes and can purchase different items needed for their child including: clothing, formula, diapers, wipes and other child care items. A collaboration between Head Start and this agency would be beneficial to educate parents in basic child care and discipline in their homes.
Head Start Coatesville could enhance their collaborative practices with AHHAH and the Chester County Food Bank, by creating a set schedule of when each agency is coming to the Head Start building. Teachers at Head Start could also have a conversation with the director of AHHAH to discuss their concerns for the children being overstimulated and assist volunteers in maintaining order during story time and music classes.