Young children living in poverty get “Head Start” through Greater Phoenix Urban League

Phoenix, AZ | Submitted by Natalie Alvarez

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For more than 50 years, Head Start programs across the country have been helping children prepare for their academic journey. The comprehensive program goes beyond basic school readiness, to include health and other family services to those living in poverty.

The Greater Phoenix Urban League, in particular, is one of the largest programs in the city of Phoenix. With nearly 800 children currently enrolled in six school districts (Cartwright School District, Isaac School District, Laveen Elementary School District, Pendergast Elementary School District, Phoenix Elementary School District and Roosevelt School District), the Urban League’s Head Start is helping whole families.

In the classroom, students learn through play and exploration, helping them to develop their critical thinking skills. They’re enabled to discover their surroundings and grow at their own pace. And to help with the upcoming transition to kindergarten, every student has a teacher who speaks their native language. Receiving written and verbal instruction in their own language is a great support for those beginning in a classroom.

To ensure that children are ready to learn, each receives medical and dental care, which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. And the mental health component ensures that the at-risk youth set off to school on the right foot. The program puts a strong emphasis on school attendance, which is an ongoing challenge in Arizona schools. And to aid in literacy, Head Start provides books for the home.

And because the program is offered through the Greater Phoenix Urban League, parents and caregivers have the opportunity to tap into additional resources to help with everything from housing to employability. Families are engaged to help them all become lifelong learners and better understand how to help their kids through their education journeys. Even at this young an age, educators talk to families about college, its value and how to get there.

What started as nine classrooms serving 180 youth has flourished to 40 classrooms today. They’re ensuring that our community’s most at-risk youth, and their families, get the help that they need to be successful. And the impact they’re having is immeasurable:

  • Trauma-informed care and social-emotional learning ensure that these classes have lower expulsion rates than other preschool programs
  • The rates for youth receiving recommended medical and dental care is far higher than average. In fact, during the last year, students who had received complete physicals increased to nearly 850 from 181.
  • What’s more, the Urban League’s efforts nearly doubled the number of students who were up-to-date on immunizations and even arranged for nearly 900 youth to receive much-needed dental care.
  • The League has been able to help homeless families find permanent housing, allowing for more stable home environments that are conducive to learning.

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