Alumni Spotlight: Head Start support across generations

This edition of Alumni Spotlight features the journeys of two members of the Head Start ‘parent-staff-alumni’ club — a unique designation but not an uncommon one. Head Start has the distinction of impacting children, who as adults, enroll their own children for the same quality educational programming they received, and then decide to join the Head Start workforce as a way of paying forward its dividends.

Tashia Lemon-Guillory

Director of Lawtell Head Start Center — Lawtell, Louisiana

After I graduated college with a degree in early education, I wasn’t sure what I wanted my focus area to be. At that time, I thought I might pursue an advanced degree in social work but I was unsure. It was a visit to my Head Start program that brought the clarity I needed. During an outing with a friend, I paid a visit to my former Head Start center in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, and encountered my former teacher. I was struck by how after so many years, she was still inspiring children and families. It was then I realized I wanted to have that kind of impact on children and families, and Head Start was the exact place to do that.

I am currently the director of the Lawtell Head Start Center in Lawtell, Louisiana, and I have been here for 18 years. I cherish the opportunity to give back what I received to the same parish where I attended. On a regular basis, as an educator, I get to clearly see the academic and social differences between students who attended Head Start and those who have not.

Interestingly, as a proud member of the ‘parent-staff-alumni’ club, I have the triple honor of being a Head Start alumna, working in Head Start, and having a child who also attended Head Start. My son, Collin, recently graduated high school and is attending Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He is studying biology and considering a possible career in physical therapy. Like so many others, our family is living proof of the impact Head Start has on children, families, and their trajectories. I attended Head Start, came to work with Head Start, and I remain with Head Start because Head Start changes lives.

Favorite HS Memory: Riding the van to school and playing in the interest areas like cooking, nature, and science, and of course, with the blocks.

Jennifer DeMars-Ellison

Administrative Services Coordinator- Anoka County Community Action Program (ACCAP) Anoka/Washington County Head Start-Early Head Start — Coon Rapids, Minnesota

Head Start has supported my family’s development and success. I attended Head Start in Monticello, Minnesota and when I became a parent, I enrolled my children in Head Start because I knew they would receive a quality education and consistency. What I didn’t count on was the impact Head Start would have on me as a parent and my family’s future. We are a large, blended family and several of our children attended Anoka County Community Action Program (ACCAP) Head Start in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. When my son, Isaiah, started there, he struggled with separation issues. At that time, he was my youngest and I was unemployed, so I volunteered to help him better adjust. I was looking to re-enter the workforce when I discovered there were a few openings at the center. I applied for a data entry specialist role and due to my skill set and previous work experience, I was offered an administrative lead program specialist position. Once I started working at the center, Isaiah’s disposition toward school changed. He became very excited to go to school and his anxiety dissipated as he and I were able to connect throughout the day.

God blessed us with one more child to round out our full house and I immediately enrolled him into Early Head Start as soon as he was eligible. This was an ‘open window’ moment in my life — I was loving my job and the children were getting older, which made it a great time to advance professionally. The center director, Ms. Cross, was extremely supportive when I decided to return to school for an associate’s degree in business administration. It was hard raising a family, working, and going to school at the same time, but I had a goal in mind and my husband, our eight children, and the entire Head Start team supported me emotionally and tactically. Head Start helped me reach my goal and after I obtained my degree, I was promoted to the management team and eventually to the administrative services coordinator role, which I currently hold. I then had the privilege of supervising and supporting other staff members with young children in the same way I had been.

I want everyone to know the quality and value of Head Start. The programs are laser-focused on child development and kindergarten readiness. Head Start has the mission to support a family’s successful journey — and it is a journey! — to self-sufficiency. My family is a prime example of all of its benefits: as a Head Start child, I developed an excitement for learning; while enrolled, my children received supportive interventions and were more than prepared for kindergarten and beyond with the older ones pursuing advanced education or military service, and my youngest currently doing well in middle school; as a Head Start parent and staff member, I received valuable support that helped me discover and achieve my professional aspirations, in addition to providing stability for our children. The list goes on!

We are extremely proud to be a Head Start family.

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Head Start has improved the lives of more than 35 million children and their families. Educators, doctors, lawyers, military personnel, artists, engineers — from all across the country — remember it as the place where they acquired a life-long love of learning. #OurHeadStart

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National Head Start Association

National Head Start Association

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.

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