Freshly hung paintings line the walls alongside a daily schedule and classroom jobs display. A young child builds with Legos while another plays with sand at the sensory table.
It’s a typical September morning at Bank Street Head Start and the young students here are fully immersed in discovering new materials, settling into their routines, and getting to know their teachers and classmates.
Located in the East Village, the free preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds serves 68 families each year and helps to prepare children for lifelong learning and success. With a 7:1 child-to-teacher ratio, Head Start offers a comprehensive, student-centered curriculum that focuses on social-emotional development, literacy and language, mathematics, science, physical development, and creative arts.
“Our curriculum is designed to nurture children’s natural curiosities and support the developmental needs of early childhood students,” said Edras D. De Jesús Jiménez, Director, Bank Street Head Start. “During the beginning of the school year, we help students and parents acclimate to their learning environment to support building trusting relationships and a foundation for each child’s education. We spend time helping children learn about their routines at school, developing a shared understanding of how to transition between activities, and encouraging parents to play an active role in our school community.”
To help establish classroom routines, teachers and students often sing songs together during activity transitions and participate in a daily meeting about the day’s schedule, which typically includes activities such as a movement, playground period, rest, play time, and story time.
The early months of the school year are especially important for the youngest students who are learning to separate from their parents—many for the first time. To support this adjustment, Head Start offers an extended drop-off period, allowing parents to transition out of the classroom slowly, at the child’s pace, to ensure that their child is ready for the day.
“At Head Start, teachers take time to form relationships with parents. Through observation of each student and an in-depth understanding of childhood development, we create activities that include the budding interests of children to encourage their excitement about learning,” added De Jesús Jiménez. “Teachers observe their students, engage meaningfully with them, cater to their zone of proximal development, and help stretch them to the next step through ongoing assessments and modifications.”
By working closely with families, Head Start teachers are able to gain a deeper understanding of how each child learns and create effective strategies for meeting students where they are in their development and helping them grow from there.
“We encourage parents to participate in all areas of their child’s educational growth and we provide the opportunities to do so. The school becomes part of the village that is needed to raise a child,” said Sylvie Hsiao-Yi Fan, Assistant Director, Bank Street Head Start, who is also the parent of a former Bank Street Head Start student. “Children benefit by seeing their caregivers participate in their school life by getting involved and supporting the value of education. When they see that their parents care about education and what they are doing in school, they are able to make the connection between school and home.”
Opportunities to volunteer at the school, attend workshops on topics such as nutrition, participate in the Family Thriving Support Group and/or Fathers Group, and enjoy community partnership initiatives including a library card program for New York City families, are available to parents.
Founded in 1964, Head Start was designed to provide preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive early childhood program. Bank Street and its former president, John Niemeyer, played an integral role in the nation’s formation of the program by helping to create regulations for Project Head Start. Additionally, the first Head Start concept paper, written by staff in the United States Office of Economic Opportunity, pointed to Bank Street classrooms as a model for Head Start classrooms.
“I look forward to helping give families access to a wonderful education for their child and take their first steps toward advocating for their child’s educational career,” said De Jesús Jiménez, who joined Bank Street Head Start this year after the retirement of Steven Antonelli, former Director, Bank Street Head Start.
“As director of the program for many years, Steven Antonelli was a wonderful, caring, and responsive leader who, as a musician, brought music and much joy to the school. Parents have described how he helped them over the years—how he was always available to listen to their ongoing challenges and to guide and be there for them and for their children,” said Fern Khan, Dean Emerita, Bank Street’s former Division of Continuing Education, and current Trustee. “Families have said they are so grateful for the high-quality education their children experienced at Bank Start Head Start.”