by Shavonne Clarke
Eric Bridgett, from the Mississippi Delta, is a product of Head Start.
Now a high school teacher in Mound Bayou, Miss., he says that more than 90 percent of the students he teaches attended Head Start.
“It’s a privilege to be an advocate for them,” he said at our annual Advocacy Summit in D.C. in March. Bridgett spoke on a panel called Stories from the Field. The panel featured four advocates like him: gritty, determined and inspiring people who are working to help more kids in the U.S. get the chance to experience early learning and more kids around the world to survive and thrive.
Bridgett sees hope in Head Start. His daughter and granddaughter were enrolled in Head Start programs, and they both left kindergarten reading on a second-grade level. He knows these programs are effective.
The trouble comes with what he calls “the reverse blame game.” When students arrive in high school unprepared to learn at the level they should be, high school teachers often blame middle school teachers for failing to prepare their students. In turn, middle school teachers tend to blame elementary school teachers.
In reality, Bridgett said, “it starts with the early years.” If there’s an early learning deficit, it’s noticeable—even in high school. The negative effects of this deficit are confirmed by many studies that link the skills and knowledge developed during a child’s earliest years with that child’s success later on in life.
As a high school teacher, Bridgett has witnessed those links in action. He has seen how his students have learned to cope with the gaps in their learning to get by in their studies. When he encounters difficulties in the classroom, he reminds himself—and others—that kids are people.
“They have needs, wants, desires,” Bridgett said. “Every individual has the ability to contribute in a meaningful way.”
We can all help make positive change in the lives of children, Bridgett said.
“Wherever you’re from, whatever you do, don’t just talk about it,” he said during the Summit. “Go to your local Head Start center. Share what you know. Be about it.”