A new Head Start program may prompt some New Haven fathers and father figures to wonder how hot they are — on the literacy thermometer.
The New Haven Public Schools received a $15,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the creation of a new Head Start program to help fathers and other male role models become more involved in child literacy development. The Fatherhood Literacy Initiative, as the program is called, will supplement the six-year-old Male Involvement Initiative, a New Haven Head Start plan to increase male involvement in all aspects of child development.
Thanks to the grant, New Haven Head Start Program directors are working to launch “Hot On Dads Reading,” a program that lets fathers and father figures receive points for literacy-centered activities they perform with their child, such as reading a book at the library or helping the child write his or her name. Head Start classes will then post “thermometers” showing the various levels of father participation. After they earn 25 points, fathers win a prize.
“We have had, for the 37 years of the [Head Start] Program, difficulty getting fathers involved in this program,” said Edward Zigler, a Yale Sterling professor of psychology and one of the founders of Head Start. Head Start is a child development program that serves low-income children and their families nationwide.
Zigler said the creation of the New Haven Head Start Program’s Fatherhood Literacy Initiative also coincides with the Bush Administration’s emphasis on early childhood literacy.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro — who represents the 3rd Congressional District, including New Haven — helped the New Haven Public Schools to obtain the grant, which they applied for in June.
“This program will be critical to the future development of our kids,” DeLauro said in a press release.
But Claudia McNeil, an education coordinator for the New Haven Head Start Program, said fathers, too, will benefit from greater involvement in their children’s lives — they will gain self-esteem, better literacy skills, and a desire for self-improvement. McNeil said it was important to include male role models in the program.
“We redefine ‘dad’: a dad doesn’t have to live in your home,” she said.
Freddie Brumell, the program’s assistant director, said part of the difficulty of getting fathers involved is that many people do not associate men with parenting.
“When we say ‘parents,’ we are talking about both mothers and fathers,” he said.
So far, Brumell said, the new Fatherhood Literacy Initiative has been a “very good success.” The program has already recruited 45 men as prospective candidates for a test-run of “Hot on Dads Reading” — more men than originally expected.
For Keith Young Sr., Head Start’s male involvement specialist, the new program is “a work of passion.” Young became involved in Head Start through his own children.
“We are so excited,” he said. “We are very, very proud, and hope that we are in the forefront of the fatherhood literacy program.”
Zigler echoed Young’s hope for the new initiative.
“I think it’s a great program and could easily become a model for the nation.”