This summer marks Head Start’s 50th anniversary, a historic milestone in our nation’s commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty and opening windows of opportunity to our most vulnerable children. I am among the 32 million Americans Head Start has served since its creation in 1965, and I can speak firsthand to the incredible difference early childhood education makes in a young life.
My parents were grateful for the local Head Start program on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Northeastern Minnesota, where early childhood education was difficult to afford for most families. Head Start immediately brought my entire family into the fold, supporting my early development, engaging my parents, and even welcoming my grandmother to volunteer in the classroom. Our local program was tribally operated, so the teachers and administrators knew the unique needs of families in our local community. I even remember learning the Ojibwe language in the Head Start classroom, an important early connection to the culture and traditions of my community.
Head Start got me excited for school, and instilled in me a love of learning that would go on to inspire me throughout my life. The academic and school readiness skills, as well as the life skills I learned in the Head Start classroom prepared me to enter Kindergarten ready to learn.
Today, I serve as Director of the Office of Indian Education for the Minnesota Department of Education, where I see how Head Start is impacting the lives of at-risk children throughout Minnesota, particularly those living on reservations and in tribal communities.
In my office today, where most people hang their college degrees, I choose to hang my Head Start graduation tassel. I look at it every day as a reminder of where I came from and an inspiration to continue to work to ensure every child in Minnesota is given a chance to realize their full potential, both in school and in life.
So, happy 50th birthday Head Start. Let’s all renew our commitment to 50 more years of opportunity.
Dennis Olson is a proud Head Start graduate who currently serves as Director of the Office of Indian Education for the Minnesota Department of Education.