Project Head Start is one of the most successful social service programs ever created. Over its first 30 years of service, Head Start has touched the lives of over 14.5 million preschool children and their families.
In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson began this nationwide program to meet the needs of America's low-income children and families. At that time, the important goal of Project Head Start was to improve the quality of life for low-income families through a comprehensive preschool program. The new preschool program focused on education, health, nutrition, social service, disabilities and parent involvement. Head Start also required an advisory council of parents participating in the planning, monitoring and decision-making for programming.
Since its inception, Head Start has operated as a partnership of the child's family, community and area professionals and program staff. Head Start believes that the family is fundamental to a child's development. Parents play an important role in developing policies and participating in daily operations of the program. The program also draws heavily on the professional skills of professionals in nutrition, health, education, psychology and social services. All of these people -parents, community, and staff-work together and contribute to the child's total development.
In 1964, Dr. Merle Karnes, University of Illinois, and Margaret Stillwell, Unit 4 Schools, submitted a grant for a Head Start program in Champaign County. In 1965, Champaign County Head Start began a summer program with Margaret Stillwell as director. Champaign centers were located in Washington, Columbia, Marquette and Gregory elementary schools.
In 1968, the Economic Opportunity Council (EOC), a private not-for-profit in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois, became the grantee for Champaign County. In 1969, Rantoul became a part of the grant under the direction of Rebecca Williams in Rantoul City Schools.
In 1971, Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana, Illinois assumed sponsorship of the program. Herman Green, University of Illinois, was the first director under Wesley, followed by Louis Clay, also of the University of Illinois.
In the fall of 1977-78, East Central Illinois Community Action in Danville, Illinois became the new grantee of Champaign County Head Start. At that time, Head Start served 250 children. March Buchanan was the director until the fall of 1994.
These expansions increased enrollment in Head Start to 418 and instituted Early Head Start Services for 65 infants, toddlers and pregnant mothers. The 1997 expansions also allowed CCHS to begin providing full-day/full-year services in its own centers and in partnership with child care centers and family child care homes. For its full-day/full-year classrooms, Champaign County Head Start/Early Head Start (CCHS) leased space in Champaign.
In 2001, CCHS received an expansion grant for an additional 17 children to collaborate with the Urbana Early Childhood program - raising the Head Start enrollment to 435. In September 2002, the City of Champaign, Champaign Unit 4 Schools and Champaign County Head Start joined resources to remodel a Unit 4 building for an Early Childhood Center. This building houses Head Start/Early Head Start, Unit 4 pre-kindergarten classrooms and CASE Audiology services.
In September 2003, the program opened a new center in Rantoul, moving classrooms that had been located for several years in Rantoul City School's Broadmeadow School. An Early Head Start expansion grant in 2003 allowed Early Head Start services to be offered to families at the Rantoul Center.
In the fall of 2004, Champaign County Head Start relinquished the lease of two rooms in Stratton Elementary School in Champaign and moved into two rooms at Prairie Elementary School in Urbana.
Currently Champaign County Head Start has a staff of 95 and a $4.5 million budget annually. The annual budget includes $152,00 from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Early Childhood Block Grant funding, about $200,000 from the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program and about $124,000 of child care services subsidy for its full-day/full-year programming.