The enthusiasm in Elaine McMichael’s voice is noticable. A year and a half ago, this hotel HR recruiter faced a serious decision. Her three-year-old daughter Eliana’s preschool program was open only a few days a week, and then for limited hours. Elaine had to pay for child care for the remainder of her work day. The fees were high, yet Eliana seemed to be learning very little. In addition, her mother noticed signs that she was not being paid proper attention by the staff.
Then Elaine heard about Head Start. “My son was in the program for a little while, but that was almost ten years ago,” she says. To her surprise and delight, the CEOGC-run Head Start center nearest her home now offered extended hours to accommodate working parents. The children were actively engaged in reading and math tasks. Once a week they and their teacher traveled to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a literacy session with music therapists. Best of all, the center encouraged parent involvement and taught family members how to keep children learning at home. “It was really too good to be true for me, that they offered the hours that I needed, and there was no additional money needed,” Elaine says. “So when we got there the first day, there was the warm welcome, the expectation of us coming in. They let me know that I could check on her during the day. And the newsletters, the trainings, the workshops—it’s all been amazing.”
Today, Elaine McMichael supports Head Start with not only praise, but her time and talents as a Board Member. Eliana, now nearing her fifth birthday, loves Head Start and, says her mother, is thriving there. “We’re seeing her shift from being shy to taking her turn to lead when they’re getting in line. She’s learning her letters and numbers and recognizing words on the page. They’ve integrated learning in Spanish, so she’s building vocabulary in two languages. She signs in on a clipboard every day.”
This mother and daughter embody our desires for all Head Start participants: Eliana gaining academic and social skills that will help her to succeed, Elaine taking an active role in her daughter’s education and shaping the way preschoolers citywide will learn. The McMichaels are Cleveland’s future—and they are making their marks through the Council for Economic Opportunity.