Parent and Family Involvement

It is well understood among Head Start staff and coordinators that the success of the program, and more importantly, the success of children’s education, very much depends on involvement and participation of the parents. Parents are encouraged by Aboriginal Head Start staff to take a proactive role in their children’s current and future education. As their child’s primary teachers, parents are empowered to bring forth gifts and further develop as role models for their children and in their communities.

"Being involved with Aboriginal Head Start program has encouraged me to branch out as a parent and take an active role in the education and schooling of my children."

- Karla Wright: Former Parent, Prince George AHS

“Increasing the parental and guardian involvement is definitely a pillar; it varies from site to site how successful each site is, so I think that supporting that more is really key to the program.” – Megan Brown: Program Consultant, BC Region, Public Health Agency of Canada

“I asked for some of the rules that they use here and I took them home; those are the structures for discipline and for parenting…. Not only does the program give us structure but it gives Brandon the same structure here and at home.” - Chantelle Leung: Parent, Eagle’s Nest AHS

A few Aboriginal Head Start staff members have noted that parents can sometimes feel intimidated or out of place when dealing with kindergarten and elementary school staff and concerted efforts are made to help parents gain the confidence to assert their wishes for their child’s education, and familiarize the children with kindergarten before they attend.

“We’ve had some wonderful success stories around engaging parents…. One of the strengths of the program is that welcoming environment… We’ve had parents become educators in the Head Start centres, we’ve had parents go back and learn their traditional languages, we’ve had parents go back and complete their education… it really does create a positive impact when you have that welcoming environment.” – Christine Burgess: Acting Regional Director, Public Health Agency of Canada

“We’ve had some parents… it’s life-altering for them. I think it sets them up for success and it gets them feeling confident that they can talk… those interpersonal skills sometimes can be unimaginable for people”. – Vanessa Hickman: Program Coordinator, Awahsuk AHS

“It’s so important that the parents are willing to work with us as a team. [Head Start parents] work together with us to help their child. – Rose Monsees: Kindergarten teacher, Terrace

The requirement that the parents become active participants in their children’s education is a unique strength of the AHS program. In learning about and sharing their own gifts, they become leaders in their family’s education.

“I was casually chatting with one mom and told her that I was so proud of her son the other day when he had gotten up and drummed with the cultural worker at the preschool. He was quiet and respectful and kept the beat so perfectly that it almost made me cry. His mother explained that she was a drummer, so her son had heard the drumbeat since before he was born. Starting next week, she’s coming in to sing and drum with the kids in the program... We have another parent who learned the Cree alphabet song, so she sings it, alternating with the kids. A dad comes in and sings too; he’s been teaching the kids ‘The Blueberry Song.’ We honour these PAC parents at the end of the year. – Susan Horton: ECE, Future 4 Nations AHS

Parent Advisory Council

Parents and guardians become members of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), making decisions about school functions, fundraising, and learning to advocate for their children. Many find that participation helps them build community and new relationships with peers. PAC meetings provide an atmosphere where parents feel welcome and appreciated for their involvement.

“This year and last year we really made a concerted effort to work closely with the PAC and really support them… It’s really amazing to see how many people are going out to their community gatherings and raffles and things… The main part is they worked for this money and now they’re having a choice in how it’s spent.”

– Susan Horton: ECE, Future 4 Nations AHS

“When I was here I was the PAC Chair, the PAC Secretary, a Parent Rep, and the Fundraising Coordinator… I did a lot of volunteer work and spent time with the kids.” – Jessica Field: Former Parent, Power of Friendship AHS

“[I liked] …being involved in the PAC meetings, to help the kids, to help learn with their learning. I try to come to every PAC meeting and I try to help out with whatever they need done here.” – Tania Mitchell: Parent, Singing Frog AHS Jessica Field: Former Parent, Power of Friendship AHS

“Seeing how… the Parental Advisory Councils are so involved in the program and guiding its development is a really enjoyable experience.” – Megan Brown: Program Consultant, BC Region, Public Health Agency of Canada

“Sometimes the parents are really nervous about getting onto the PAC Executive, but it’s a real training ground for parents… We’re really pleased with our PAC Executive. They decided it would be best to model after the school district, since they would be going there when they leave here.” – Audrey Waite: Program Coordinator, Comox Valley AHS

“The PAC is like a PAC at an ordinary elementary school except it’s better and smaller so they can care more about the things that are needed, like family resources.” – Jaclyn Reyes: Parent and PAC Chair, Eagle’s Nest AHS

“I’ve been involved with Head Start since the fall of 2000. I started going to the PAC right away and I’ve been involved with PAC since then… Head Start is not just the preschool. They do have workshops for parents too. They’ve done the Self Defence for Women… we try to learn the different languages... They offer rides to pretty much everything... Most of the time, we supply a sitter; we have child minding for PAC meetings, and rides to and from PAC meetings, there’s food, snacks, there’s door prizes. There’s no reason why anybody shouldn’t be able to make it.” – Lisa Johnson: Parent, Qwallayuw AHS