The Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County invites the community to its first-ever educational forum this Friday.

Two forums are scheduled, at 9:30 a.m. at the Goleta Public Library, 500 N. Fairview Ave., and at 3 p.m. at the Souza Center in Santa Maria. Both sessions will focus on the impact of Head Start in Santa Barbara County.

For more information about the forums or to reserve a space, call Erika Sanchez at 805.964.8857.

The CAC, UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and Santa Barbara County school districts have worked together to conduct rigorous evaluations and analyses. Researchers conclude that children enrolled in the local Head Start program enjoy significant immediate gains in cognitive, vocabulary and numeric knowledge. In fact, 81 percent of Head Start children in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District were in the top two Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile (KSEP) levels compared with 36 percent of the no-preschool group.

“We live in a world in which nearly everything we value, from a healthy, long lifespan to financial and family stability, is associated with educational attainment,” CAC Executive Director Fran Forman said. “The access to education for our children starts in preschool. CAC is pleased to share the successful results of the research about the impact of Head Start in Santa Barbara County, in partnership with the UCSB Gevirtz School of Education and the participating Santa Barbara County school districts. Sharing this information in a public educational forum will allow community members and educational professionals to learn, grow and strengthen the achievements of our educational programs.”

Head Start is the federal preschool program with a mission to enhance the health and school readiness of America’s economically disadvantaged children. The Santa Barbara County Head Start program, operated by the CAC, serves more than 1,000 children and 500 families each year. An overwhelming majority of Head Start parents work at low-wage jobs and their families live at or below the poverty line, making less than $22,000 per year for a family of four. Children from low-income families are at high risk of starting school far behind their more advantaged peers, and falling further behind over time. They tune out and drop out at alarming rates.

Angelica and Pedro Mora, former Head Start parents, have seen the difference that Head Start has made for their four children. Their son Moises graduated from CAC Cuyuma Head Start in 1997 and currently attends Taft College. Angelica Mora said CAC Head Start has played an important role in the success of the entire family. She learned English while volunteering at Head Start, landed her first job as a CAC bus monitor and is now the cafeteria manager for Cuyama Elementary School.

“I really don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing today if CAC hadn’t given me a big push,” Angelica Mora said.

Linda Jacobson of the Hechinger Institute, said, “Head Start’s hallmark is its comprehensiveness.” The program assists families by providing vital health, nutrition and family support services in addition to early childhood education. The Head Start model is unique because it builds on family participation in the educational process by supporting parental volunteering in the classroom and providing access to programs like English as a Second Language Training.

“Head Start in Santa Barbara County provides a high-quality early childhood education experience for children from low-wage-earning families. The teachers in our classrooms are well versed in the latest discoveries about early brain development,” said Mattie Gadsby, CAC Children’s Services director. “CAC’s Head Start staff works hard every day to prepare children for academic success. We strive to help to close the achievement gap for low-income children and give parents, especially fathers, a higher comfort and participation level in the process of their children’s education. It takes a community working together to make it strong. Together, we are truly transforming the futures of many of Santa Barbara’s high-needs children and families. We are excited to share this research with educational professionals and interested community members.”

— Tami Snow represents the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County.