Chad Andersen was a skinny, terribly shy child with curly light brown hair when he walked in the door of the North Plains Head Start program with his mother, 22 years ago, at the age of 2. In the first three months at Head Start, he was so painfully timid he uttered hardly a word. It wasn’t until Christmas break that he came out of his shell.

He lived with his mother, Terry, in a small, ramshackle house on a hill on the outskirts of North Plains. Terry, who was on welfare, had learned about Head Start while seeking some assistance with heating bills at Community Action’s Hillsboro site.

Begun in 1965, Head Start provides comprehensive family-centered early childhood education health, nutrition and parent services to low-income children and their families. For those who qualify, based on family income, Head Start is free, although there is a selection process based on family characteristics.

In Washington County, Head Start operates programs through Community Action at multiple locations in the Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard-Tualatin school districts and serves approximately 900 children.

The program has earned our support.

Early Head Start covers children from birth to 3; Head Start covers children ages 3 to 5. In Early Head Start, some children are served at a center alone, some are accompanied by parents who work with teachers and some are served by home-visiting staff who work with parents to foster the child’s growth and development.

Head Start assists children in a school-based setting for 3.5 hours a day, four days a week, requiring most working parents to find some child care options for the rest of the day.

Has it made a real difference? I think so.

According to Jane Hogue, director of child development at Community Action, one major study shows Head Start children made larger gains than other kids in all areas of school, though the gains showed some signs of fading by the end of the first grade.

Other studies, Hogue said, reveal short- and medium-term benefits from Head Start in terms of less need for special education, a reduction in children repeating grades, improved health for adults, improved educational achievement and wages and decreased incarceration rates. There is also some thinking that Head Start may be providing social/emotional benefits that go beyond academic success.

Chad Andersen is a great example of a Head Start success story.

“Living out on the hill, I never had neighbors to play with, so it was at Head Start that I learned how to play and communicate with other kids,” Chad said. “I would have been shell-shocked if I’d gone straight to kindergarten without having had a warming up to the whole school thing.”

After two years at Head Start, then attending North Plains Elementary and Evergreen Middle School, Chad blossomed at Glencoe High School. There he consistently earned As and Bs, got taller and stronger, and grew out of his shyness.

Glencoe’s school business program is what truly energized him.

“I was tired of being the typical low income child, set for failure and ready for a career at the local supermarket,” he said. “This program would prove to be my passion. I cannot thank Mrs. Hufford and Mr. Walker (Glencoe teachers) enough for showing me the subject that would become my college major and career choice.”

Following graduation from Glencoe, Chad attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland, becoming the first in his family to attend college. In June 2013, he received his Bachelor of Science in business administration.

His mother nearly burst with love and pride when Chad graduated.

“I was elated,” Terry said. “I was the proudest mommy there probably ever could be.”

Chad stayed in Ashland to work on a master’s degree, graduating in the spring of 2014.

Where he is today is an accomplished young man of 24 who, on Aug. 15, began working his first job as an auditor with a respected public accounting firm in San Francisco. By the way, no longer a skinny kid, he also now plays an aggressive game of rugby.

Fred S. Johnson is executive vice president and chief credit officer at Premier Community Bank in Hillsboro.

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