By Deborah Napier
Brianna Lopez has just turned four when she started her first year of school as a Head Start student at Charlotte Elementary. Her family was struggling to overcome poverty and trauma, and had recently moved to the small Texas town to be near other family members for support.
Little Brianna, the second-to-youngest of five children, was hardly speaking and spent much of her time in a world of make believe. Her parents enrolled her in BCFS Education Services’ Head Start program to attend Pre-K, and the experience was transformative not only for Brianna, but for their whole family.
Head Start is a national program for low-income families that promotes school readiness by providing educational, health, nutritional and social services. Free Head Start services include Pre=L, individualized teaching led by degreed teachers, bilingual services, and comprehensive social services that help each family improve their socioeconomic condition.
When Brianna first joined her Head Start class, she continued with habits she formed at home to entertain herself. With few toys to play with at home, she would make hand puppets out of tissues. As her classmates played with one another, Brianna and her hand puppets kept to themselves.
BCFS Head Start teacher and assistant, Mrs. “K” and Ms. Evette, worked patiently with Brianna to help her feel safe and encourage her to participate in class activities. As she began to feel like part of the group, she spent less time with her hand puppets.
While BCFS teachers worked with Brianna in the classroom, BCFS case workers helped provide her family with clothing, food, housing, furniture and emotional support. The BCFS team rallied local organizations and individuals to help meet the family’s needs as they arose, and the outpouring of support was overwhelming to Brianna’s mom. “It’s hard to believe that this many people are helping me – people that don’t even know me,” said Mrs. Calvillo.
The once quiet and serious Brianna now smiles all the time. Not only is she speaking English, she’s also learning Spanish. During a recent phone call from her grandfather, her mother was amazed to overhear how Brianna’s vocabulary had increased in both languages. She was overjoyed to listen to Brianna carry on a lengthy, bilingual conversation with her loved ones.
“Brianna has come a long way in learning her letters, numbers and words,” says Mrs. Kiejci, Brianna’s teacher. She is always excited to come to school. It is hard to imagine how different she would be if she hadn’t had the opportunity to be in Head Start this year.”
Now, those homemade tissue hand puppets hardly ever come out to play, because Brianna has grown to speak for herself and engage with her peers. Her teachers say she loves books and describe her as “a girl that loves learning.”