A former Head Start teacher reflects on the program's first year
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 7:27 PM
The speed with which the whole thing came together still amazes Gloria Gibson. It seemed as if one day Lyndon Johnson was signing legislation designed to combat poverty and the next day the young teacher was standing in a Mount Pleasant classroom in front of 17 3- and 4-year-olds.
Head Start didn't get much of a head start.
That was 45 years ago, the summer of 1965. Gloria had just finished her degree in speech pathology at Michigan State University. She thought she'd be teaching older kids in the D.C. public school system - she was a graduate of Roosevelt High - but the president had other ideas. The creation of Head Start, a pre-kindergarten program aimed at promoting school readiness, meant dozens of teachers in Washington would need to be shifted to preschool. By June, Gloria was knocking on doors to encourage parents to part with their kids for a few hours each day.
There were 10 girls and seven boys in Gloria's class, among the very first crop of Head Starters. She snapped their photo on the fire escape of H.D. Cooke Elementary School.
She wonders: Whatever became of them? They'd be close to 50 now. Do they remember "Miss Gibson"?
"What impact, if any, did preschool education have on them?" she asked. "There is a debate on whether it's needed. Would they advocate for it today? How would their lives have turned out differently if they had not received early socialization?"
These were poor kids, some in bad situations. Gloria remembers being concerned about one boy who walked to school by himself in the mornings, turned out of the house by his mother. "We knew his mother was turning tricks," she said.
Did Miss Gibson reach him?
Social skills were what she worked on: how to cooperate, how to share, how to sit still. "It wasn't teaching them two plus two is four," she said. (Gloria still chuckles at the teacher who would write her name on the blackboard. "They couldn't read!")
Gloria played the guitar and sang to them. When they went down for their nap, she did too. "They had to say, 'Miss Gibson, time to get up.' Those little 4-year-olds could wear you out."
Yes, she wonders what became of them - and of her fellow teachers. She'd like to write a book on that year and hopes they'll get in touch with her: firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1869, Glen Burnie, Md. 21060.