Our Excellent Adventure with OHS

Debbie and Takila at the Newton Grove community lunch.

Debbie Youhouse and Takila Newkirk are two of the unsung heroes of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program. Debbie works as a Program Specialist with the Office of Head Start, where she is responsible for overseeing the program services of eight MSHS grantees, including East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Takila works as a Grants Specialist with the Office of Head Start, where she is responsible for managing and overseeing the funding awards for many MSHS and American Indian grantees. This week, ECMHSP had the opportunity to host Debbie and Takila as they visited our program.

Ignacia Gonzalez with her beautiful daughter at the Jennings Early Head Start Center in Florida.

Debbie and Takila’s excellent adventure began at our new Early Head Start expansion center in Jennings, Florida. The center looked spectacular and all of the staff were knowledgeable, warm, and welcoming. Debbie and Takila offered nothing but praise for everything they saw — from the design and layout of the classrooms to the shiny school bus filled with children going home for the day!

Vianey Lopez, President of the Parent Committee, and Ignacia Gonzalez, the Vice-President of the Parent Committee, were phenomenal hosts and tour guides. We visited the grape tomato fields and Vianey and Ignacia shared stories about their work in the fields. Vianey amazed us all as she described how peaceful it was to ride the unpaved back roads late at night and stop alongside the tomato fields and look up at the stars. Vianey also took us to the Budget Lodge motel and the North Florida Inn to see how difficult the living conditions are for our farmworker families.

Debbie Youhouse and the St. Helena team. (Photo Credit: Takila Newkirk)

On day two, Debbie and Takila drove with me four hours across the state of Georgia and then north to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. It was wonderful to see all the smiling faces once we arrived — whether they be young children or our staff (so many of whom had relocated from Florida). ECMHSP staff members Michael Edmonds and Patricia Lanuza, and Policy Council Member, Meiby Mora Soto, provided us with an excellent visit to the local farmworker camps. Again, seeing the living conditions of our farmworker families was an education for us all. One of the center moms invited us in to see inside her home, including the poster she and her husband made of their dreams for their future together, which they display proudly.

A farmworker mom shares her family’s dreams with us at the Bayview Camp in St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

A poster of dreams from Guatemala to the United States to the future.

Day three found us in Newton Grove, North Carolina, where the center looked marvelous. We arrived in time to be with the preschool children as they enjoyed their lunch. The children were so happy with their teachers and their plates of chicken, zucchini and pineapple. We concluded our visit with a community partners lunch. To have two hours to simply share the ways our program works hand-in-hand with our health partner, early intervention partner, and other community partners was so enlightening for everyone. Also, we were thrilled to hear the success story of Isabel Najera, whose children attended the Newton Grove Center more than 20 years ago and who have grown up to enjoy meaningful professional careers.

A nutritious and fun lunch in the Newton Grove Head Start Center preschool classroom.

Our final day with Debbie and Takila involved a visit to the ECMHSP headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, including observing the work at the organization’s Manual Crosswalk. While the final day lacked the joy of children, it was very informative for our guests to see how our administrative team supports the work of center operations.

All in all, it was an excellent visit for Debbie and Takila. We are so grateful for everyone who hosted us, especially our amazing parents.

ECMHSP on the West Coast for NMSHSA Conference ‘17

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 5 through March 9. A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to learn about the changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, which were rolled out last summer. It was a great opportunity to hear about implementation strategies and the importance of being outcomes-driven in our execution.

Parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationwide, including ECMHSP, gathered to learn about their critical role in our programs.

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Silvia Rodarte, Vice-President; Meiby Mora, Treasurer; Leticia Baez, Secretary; and Ramona C. De Loera, Parliamentarian. These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Meiby was elected as Alternate and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. Furthermore, Meiby was elected to fill one of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Meiby’s continued growth and will provide the support she needs as she goes on to represent and lead parents nationwide in the Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Also elected onto the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations-East, and myself. The ECMSHP is honored to bring our perspective from the different levels of our organization as we support the Association’s mission to serve our farmworker families.

Staff and Policy Council members representing ECMHSP at the NMSHSA Conference in California.

Each year, ECMHSP staff are invited to present on best practices and cutting-edge techniques that allow us to provide services of the highest quality. For example, this year, I presented a session entitled, “Head Start Champions: Advocacy for the MSHS Community,” with the assistance of Cristina, the ECMHSP Policy Council President. In the session, Head Start service providers from varying backgrounds and positions learned the basics of advocating for our community and effective strategies. Now more than ever, we need advocates that will help us elevate the successes of our migrant and seasonal Head Start programs.

ECMHSP CEO Dr. Villa (right) discusses national issues affecting ECMHSP programs with COO Javier Gonzalez.

Conference participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative presentations from Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII) and other staff from the Office of Head Start. Welcomed by John Menditto at the second day plenary, the conference attendees were inspired by the presentation of Dr. Ramon Resa, the author of Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician. For the final plenary, I had the pleasure of welcoming the conference attendees before the keynote speaker, Kevin Carnes of Lakeshores Learning Materials, was introduced.

At the conference, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!

OHS Announces New Head Start Program Performance Standards

On September 1, the Office of Head Start published the final updates to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, which describe what is needed to deliver comprehensive, high-quality individualized services to support the school readiness and healthy development of children from low-income families. According to OHS, the new standards announced last week are the first comprehensive revision of the Head Start Program Performance Standards since they were originally published in 1975.  The final rule aims to capitalize on the advancements in research, available data, as well as input from Head Start grantees and the public input in order to accomplish the critical goal of helping Head Start reach its full potential so that more children reach kindergarten ready to succeed. You can view Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell announce the new rules in the video below.

Head Start grantees and other stakeholders were invited to submit comments on the proposed updates Head Start Program Performance Standards in June 2015 through the OHS notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).  ECMHSP wanted to ensure that our farmworker families were informed about these proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide meaningful input. After all, as many parents pointed out, they know better than anyone what their needs are, and their children are affected the most by these decisions.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

ECMHSP staff presented the proposed changes to the ECMHSP Policy Council –which is comprised of farmworker parents representing all of our service regions and members of the community– during the Summer Policy Council Orientation and Meeting in August 2015.  Parents from the Policy Council had concerns about the proposed rule changes and wanted their comments to be presented to the OHS.  ECMHSP collected thoughtfully-written comments and passionate audio recordings in which parents shared their support for some of the proposed changes, as well as disagreements with other proposed changes and why they thought it might hurt their programs.

One of the proposed changes that caused the most concern with farmworker parents was the removal of the requirement for each Head Start center to have a parent committee.  Parents worried that some centers would choose to eliminate the parent committee and diminish their role in the Head Start program.  Many of the parents shared how they rely on parent committees to receive in-depth information about their center’s program operations and feel these formal committees are necessary to provide their input.

The collected comments from farmworker parents were shared with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, of which ECMHSP is a member, and helped shape the comments that were submitted to the OHS on behalf of the Association.

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ECMHSP’s Policy Council, comprised of farmworker parents and members of the community, voiced their concerns with the proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

After reviewing the final changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, ECMHSP is pleased to see the OHS recognized the concerns and comments of Head Start parents, and even referenced to their comments in the publishing of the final rule. Thanks to the active participation of our farmworker parents, parent committees will remain a required mandate for every Head Start program. Agencies will retain the parents’ critical decision-making role as leaders in the program governance and operations. Parents voiced their support for other changes in the new Head Start Performance Standards as well, including the discretion to allow members of the Policy Council to serve a maximum of five one-year terms, up from the current maximum of three one-year terms.

The new Head Start Program Performance Standards outline improvements to ensure:

  • effective teaching and learning in the Head Start classrooms;
  • expanded time for learning and healthy development;
  • strengthened and comprehensive Head Start services and family engagement;
  • the health and safety of Head Start Children; and
  • effective management and continuous improvement of Head Start programs.

We are grateful to all of our Policy Council members that provided us with their concerns, submitted their thoughts on the issues, and shared their stories from their community. Our parents’ voice is a critical component to ECMHSP success and played a central role in the comments submitted to the OHS.

You can read the Head Start Program Performance Standards final rule here.hs-perf-standards-graphic