Tabitha Shelton has been a part of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project since February 2018. I had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with her. Keep reading to learn more about why she’s such an important member of our team.
Please tell me about your background. How did you start working for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?
Before moving to Raleigh to work for ECMHSP, I was living in Arkansas. My son Bryson went to a Head Start center called Child Development Incorporated, located in Russellville, Arkansas. He attended from the age of three until almost the age of six. He was advanced and went to the gifted and talented classroom; he’s academically focused. During Bryson’s 7th grade year, he served as the Community Project Coordinator on the Student Council. He arranged for Student Council to raise $300 to purchase books for the local Head Start. The Student Council members then took a field trip to the local Head Start, read books to the preschoolers, and spent half a day playing with the children. I attribute everything that my son is to Head Start. Without Head Start, I would have not been able to complete college. I was a single mother at the time. Knowing that my son was in a safe environment where he was learning and was taken care of, allowed me to get my Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education from Arkansas Tech University. At my previous agency, Community Action Program Arkansas, I was the Education Disabilities and Mental Health Coordinator. In 2017, I attended the School Readiness Institute in Washington, D.C. for work. It was one of the trainings that my team and I would go to annually. Sheila Dandeneau, Curriculum Program Development Specialist at ECMHSP, and I were in a session together. After the session, she approached me to say that ECMHSP was looking for a Disabilities and Mental Health Manager.
What made you a good candidate for the position?
When I was in college, my placement was at a Head Start center, so I had a strong foundation of what Head Start is. Also, as a Head Start parent, I served on the Policy Council. I know what it’s like in the classroom because I taught preschool for four years, so I know the actual struggles of being at the center. In addition, I taught four years as a special education teacher. I also got my Master’s in Special Education at Arkansas Tech University.
How was the training you received?
I spent time with all the teams at our Raleigh office, especially the program support team. I really spent a lot of time reading the manuals, which are magnificent. They just really tell you what we do, why we do it, and how you literally document it in the system. When I came up with lots of questions, I scheduled weekly meetings with my program support team. I had a lot of the foundation knowledge, it was more getting used to how ECMHSP operates.
How is this role different than your previous one?
I liked the Education Disabilities and Mental Health Coordinator role. It allowed me to get that hands-on experience, working with the teachers. This position pushes me to grow professionally, how Head Start operates, grants, writing disability waivers, and doing strategic planning. That has just pushed me to believe in myself and people can really learn from that. I’m able to provide support to approximately 16 members of my team along the East Coast. We have a monthly health and disability committee call to provide new updates, training pieces, and the specialists give us feedback.
About how many children do we serve with some type of disability?
I would say it’s about five to six percent of all the children we serve. We’re required to have 10% children with disabilities, but it’s common for Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the nation to have lower numbers. An evaluation process for a disability can take up to four months and our families move around so quickly they don’t finish the evaluation process. Unfortunately, once they move to another state, the state requires parents to start the process all over.
What are your education goals?
I have considered two things as far as my education. One, I have thought about going back to school to pursue a doctoral degree. Also, while I know a lot about mental health, I would like to have a mental health licensure to ensure that I can provide more support. I think we’re going to start seeing more challenging behaviors in our migrant communities because of the things our children are seeing and hearing. My goal is to do more national trainings. I get very passionate when I share things about disability, mental health, and trauma. I hope my passion is infectious and others want to make a change as well.
How do you feel you’re making a difference at ECMHSP?
I have a lot of experience from the classroom. I love what I do. I come with a lot of passion. It is imperative to me that every child receives services as quickly as possible. Early intervention is key to these children that have these gaps. The earlier they get the intervention, the better the chance to close those gaps.
Tabitha looks forward to improving the systems in place to preserve the ECMHSP mission. Her early connection to the Head Start program has been key to the success she shows every day. ECMHSP is thankful for having such a passionate individual on our team.