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University of Washington center reimagines Head Start Program

Kids read at a preschool program in Seattle
Seattle Office for Education
Kids read at a preschool program in Seattle

A new project just launched at the University of Washington could give Head Start teachers a boost.  The effort aims to redesign how instructors for the federal early learning program are trained.

Kids who go through Head Start often come out behind those who attend other preschool programs.  So the agency is seeking solutions and awarding big grants to find them.  The money created a national center to improve teacher training at UW. 

“Sometimes children are just in head start for one year and not even a full year," says Gail Joseph, co-director of the new center. "It’s a half-day, academic year program. So how do we maximize every moment that they’re in that program? That’s really what we’re trying to do in this center is create moments that matter for those kids.”

Right now, she says a lot of programs are theoretical and emphasize academic assignments and papers.  That makes it tough for Head Start teachers to apply training to the daily needs of the program’s low-income children.  She says some course materials are also outdated, incomplete or too expensive. 

The center will partner with other universities to create new classes and assessments that address those issues and give them to training programs across the country.  It’ll also develop mentors and coaches for Head Start teachers.  That could just be the beginning.

“We’re really going to explore this idea of becoming our own regionally accredited university that is the intellectual and leadership center of the Head Start Program,” Joseph says.

The center has 5 years to reach its goals.  That’s when its $40 million grant is expected to run out.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.