Collaborating to help kids succeed in Head Start

Since it was created 50 years ago, Head Start has impacted 32 million children and their families. It’s one of America’s most successful education programs, and uses evidence-based practices while engaging parents in meaningful ways.

If you’re unfamiliar, Head Start provides comprehensive health, nutrition, and education services to families and children in poverty. We recently had the opportunity to partner with the Detroit Head Start Learning Network and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to amplify the local Head Start story.

Currently, nine nonprofit providers run Head Start programs in the city, and they manage over 60 individual pre-school sites. These providers are committed to helping families and children succeed but face daily challenges. For example, there is no coordinated public communication system, and yet the providers need to constantly recruit families and fill thousands of seats with the children who need them most.

We approached challenges like this by focusing on the experience of families. We started by interviewing both providers and parents about pre-school choices, enrollment, and retention. We learned about perceptions, barriers, and opportunities to help low-income families access what Head Start has to offer.

Head Start parent Tanya McCord

[Head Start parent Tanya McCord serves on a local parent committee]

Because Head Start programs come from many different providers, there was not a central place for families to go for basic information. A clear need arose for a shared website that would help parents understand Head Start’s services and find locations, no matter what part of the city they live in.

Using guidance from our parent interviews, we created a pilot website that offers well-written, audience-specific content. It’s responsive and therefore accessible on a wide array of devices. The intentionally simple site loads quickly on slow Internet connections, which are common in Detroit where high-speeds are expensive or hard to find. We also designed the site’s content with low-literacy readers in mind. In a future phase of work, we’ll build out more features and content based on parent input.

Website screenshot

[Sample of the new pilot website]

Website screenshot

[Sample of the new pilot website]

Our other immediate task was to collaboratively develop a communications plan that addresses strategies and tactics to advance the provider network’s overarching mission and goals. The plan recommends coordinated communications activities for the next year and a half. Our top recommendations included:

  • Creating a unified Detroit Head Start brand identity that each agency can use alongside its own identity.
  • Amplifying the public profile of Head Start in Detroit through a variety of marketing efforts.
  • Designing a citywide referral program that bolsters efforts to recruit new families.

We were happy to collaborate on this project with our friends at Cadre Studio (@NicoledeB) and photographer Khaaliq Thomas. We look forward to implementing the communications plan and strengthening this network that contributes so much to our city’s future. Head Start educators and parents are dedicated to the success of Detroit children, and we’re honored to design communication tools with them.

Follow the national Head Start conversation at #HeadStartWorks and Detroit's education happenings at #EdMattersHere.

Website screenshot

[Sample of the new pilot website]