Archiving Bilingual HeadStartA Case Study for Health and Education in East Harlem
Health in the United StatesAccording to a study by W. Douglas Evans et al. on “ChangingPerceptions of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic,” childhood obesity hasbeen increasing since the 80s, and these children represent “a newgeneration of Americans [who] will enter adulthood already obese or atrisk for obesity”An increase in soda and fast food consumption, along with changes inexercise habits of the youth and increases in TV watching, havecontributed to these statistics. The following chart details the impact ofthese factors (source: http://visual.ly/childhood-obesity-triples)
According to this graphic, soda and fast food consumption increases result in theintake of more sugars and calories, as well as fats and oils. Comparisonsbetween the 1970s and today show stark contrasts and correspond to the rise ofthe obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, in many neighborhoods, easy access to fastfood puts the residents at risk, and in some cases, healthier eating options arelargely overshadowed by this accessibility of unhealthy foods.Source: http://visual.ly/1-3-children-america-overweight
Health in the United StatesIf programs and schools are located in environments that are low-income,it is even more of an urgent issue. Many low-income areas are designatedas being “food insecure” or “food deserts,” because there is either a lackof fresh fruits and vegetables or the closest supermarket is too far forresidents to easily access.In “U.S. Food Insecurity Status: Toward a Refined Definition,” Alisha JudithColeman-Jensen states that many low-income homes fall under thecategory of “marginally food secure,” therefore the focus is on theirsecurity as opposed to the fragile nature of their situation. Policies aimedtowards “food insecure” homes- mainly public assistance policies- are nottargeted towards homes with marginal security, which Coleman-Jensenfinds problematic.
Why Bilingual Head Start?https://popcorn.webmaker.org/templates/basic/index.html?savedDataUrl=/api/p#
Importance of CommunityInterventionContinuing to assess East Harlem’s status as a possible food desert, adiscussion of La Marqueta provides some context on the community’sstruggle to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Effortsto revitalize La Marqueta, a market which, according to the New YorkTimes, reached prominence in the 50s and 60s, is a response to the“Ability” category outlined by Shaw.One article detailed information about health concerns in the Dan RiverRegion and the community-based participatory research framework of ahealth coalition forming in this region. The article, written by MonicaMotley et al, does not discuss program outcomes but does look at theprocess of coalition-building, an aspect that can be found in Bilingual HeadStart which has partnerships with various community groups.
Early Childhood EducationEducation programs have acted spaces for larger interventions, on thefederal and state level. In the 60s, Head Start programs were created toprovide low-income families with quality early childhood education fortheir children in light of findings that disparities in the readingcomprehension skills of children from higher income families and childrenfrom lower income families begin to form when these children are 5 yearsold. Because education has been treated as a socio-economic equalizer,developing a program such as Head Start became a hopeful solution forchange.Bilingual Head Start exemplifies the ways in which the program is morethan a federal or state intervention. Cultures, more specifically theMexican and Puerto Rican cultures, are infused into the program becauseit is tailored to serve the community in which it is based.
Importance of CultureHow do we begin to bring culture into discourse about the newhealthy food movement in a way that respects cultures, as opposedto disparaging them? The healthy food movement expects people toeat in a certain way without any understanding that we havememories rooted in the way we cook, the things we cook, and whowe cook with. Switching to ingredients not common to a specificculture will most likely change the taste of the dish as well so it haslost its familiarity.Bilingual Head Start acknowledges the role of culture in building thechildren’s self- and group-esteem, so it strives to affirm variouscultures by teaching the children about the origins of these culturesand incorporating cultural practices, arts, and foods in variousactivities.
Building the ArchiveExplaining the importance of a program such as Bilingual Head Start begins the creation of the archive but what components comprise the actual archive?1. Photos: visual aids, shows daily activities, allows us to see how the spacere-affirms culture2. Interviews: personal accounts of the teachers and staffFuture possibilities: The teachers and parents frequently take photos of thespecial events. Having them become involved in the archive and submittingtheir photos gives them an outlet to express their solidarity with the program.
PhotosThe following photos show the space of Bilingual head Start that istransformed for the Mexican Heritage celebration held by the school.During this celebration, students dressed up in traditional Mexicanclothing and performed for parents, teachers, and administrators.
The Space of Bilingual Head StartDisplay table
The Space of Bilingual Head StartPoster about the role of artin our ability to expressourselves
The Space of Bilingual Head StartPoster explaining thecultural significance of theart produced by students
The Space of Bilingual Head StartRecyclable milk cartons asvisual art. Making theconnection between theself, culture, and theenvironment
The Space of Bilingual Head StartDisplay table links food, culture, and health. Emphasizes healthy aspects of the tortilla(fresh corn)
The Space of Bilingual Head StartDaily space of the program. Walls lined with information about health.Pamphlets available to parents
InterviewsQualitative data that relays the experiences of teachersand staff, such as Family Engagement workersThemes:1. Involvement2. Targeting Health3. Promoting Culture4. Observed Outcomes5. Parent Involvement6. Visions for the Program
InterviewsCurrently, there are two interviews transcribed.Interviewees:-Celina, teacher who heads class Mother Earth- Nilsa, Family Engagement worker
InvolvementNilsa, from the Family Engagement office, has worked at the school for 22years. She became acquainted with the school because an outreachworker at Head Start approached her; she subsequently put her son in theprogram. He is now 28 years old.She went through several positions as a parent. For instance, she was thepresident of the Delegate Agency Parents’ Committee (DAPC), a groupthat “worked hand-in-hand with the administration…helping to provideservices and give parents’ point of view.”
InvolvementCelina, a teacher for the Mother Earth classroom, has been at the programfor 5 years. She is from El Salvador and came here to receive her BA in EarlyChildhood Education from City College, before receiving her Associate’sdegree. “One of my first jobs in the states was baby-sitting so this is what Ilove to do.”She did not know anything about the program before being hired. She heardabout the program through a job listing on Craigslist. She had previously beena teacher but had to leave her job to take care of her baby. When shedecided after 3 to 3.5 years to return to work, she sought out Craigslist andsaw the Bilingual Head Start ad. “I had my mind set for a year, because at firstI wasn’t sure if I would even take the job. I heard stereotypes about Harlem,but when I came here, I felt welcome. It was nice to see Hispanic faces. Ireally liked it here and decided to stay. I learned about the community hereand their needs.”
Targeting HealthThe Bilingual Head Start is a sugar-free program. According to Nilsa, they“encourage parents not to give sweets to students.” They also “inviteparents to speak to the cooks [and] take nutrition classes.” The programdoes not use canned goods and gives healthy alternatives to sweets (i.e.gives students nutrition bars as opposed to cookies, no frosting onbirthday cakes). Parents are welcome to bring in new recipes for thehealthy cookbook.Celina feels that Head Start has been “a great experience.” “Not manyinstitutions and people take time to worry about others’ health.” Sheadds, “I try my best to eat healthy because I have two kids.” She makessure to cook at home often and does not cook fried foods frequently. “Thething is not to do it every week, every day”- moderation is key.
Targeting HealthOne way that Celina tries to get the kids to eat healthier things is by givingprizes. “Once, the kids didn’t want beans so I said ‘If you eat the beans, you’llget a sticker’ so they tried it and they liked it!” Aside from this, there isignorance about the matter. “There’s ignorance about not knowing thatwhatever they buy at McDonald’s is not beneficial to the child’s body. Atsome point in my life, I was in the same position.”Celina mentions that the children enjoy doing food pyramids. “They havepictures of foods they cut out from magazines. They choose one food and tryto figure out where it goes on the pyramid.”
Targeting HealthNilsa notes, “As educators, we feel like these children are the most importantthing to us.” They do follow-ups on physicals and dental exams. There is anasthma action plan that “helps the family monitor the child’s asthma andavoid triggers.” For children with special needs, therapists come on-site tocheck on them. Making sure the students are healthy is definitely a priority.Nilsa also feels like it is important to combat the worldwide obesity problem.She feels that “it’s not hard for the kids to adjust [to a new diet]. Children eatanything that tastes good! So we give them homestyle meals.” They also givestudents 1% milk, water, brown rice, and various other healthy foods. “A lotof people, kids and parents, are changing their diets!” The students set thetable for their meals as another way of being involved and learningresponsibility.
Targeting HealthCelina doesn’t see many supermarkets in the area on her way to work, thoughthere may be some that she doesn’t come across. There is one on 116thandPark Avenue, on 115thbetween 1stand 2ndas well. She has visited the 116thstsupermarket with her class when they went to buy fresh strawberries. Shedoesn’t feel that the prices for healthy food are too high for parents. “If youwant kids to eat healthy, you do everything possible for that to happen” soparents can always find solutions to ensure that their kids have goodnutrition.Nilsa states that, in terms of supermarkets, there is a Pathmark on 125thstreet and Lexington. There are also little markets on 3rdavenue, but it ischeaper to buy directly from local farmers. These local farmers have arelationship with the school; they sometimes come in for the parents to buyfruits and vegetables. This is one partnership among many that Bilingual HeadStart has with other community groups.
Targeting HealthCelina mentions that once a year, students at the school make a chicken souptogether. They also make vegetable soup- each student brings a vegetablefrom home. They talk about them in class by giving the students pieces of thevegetables after chopping them up and talking to the students about the tasteand color of the vegetables. They put the ingredients in a pot and explain thecooking process to students. They then give the pot to the cooks who makethe soup, and when the soup is ready, they eat it in class.
Targeting HealthThe program promotes natural sugars, such as those found in fruits. Celinadetails an instance when Rita Prats had to ask an ice cream truck to not parkin front of the school so that the children could leave school without beingtempted by these sweets. The school prefers to give students natural juicepops. Celina has incorporated that at home. “I do the juice pops at home too.Sometimes I do it with apple juice. I may use Tropicana. Or I do smoothies-mango, milk, just a little sugar.” If her children eat sweets, they arehomemade with better ingredients; she has made low-sugar cookies at herhome, for example.
Promoting CultureNilsa describes the program as being multi-cultural. “If a family doesn’teat pork, we give that information to the cook who puts it in the child’srecord. We try to keep a home environment.” All holidays are celebrated,especially Christmas. They try to teach the children the meanings of theseholidays.There is a mutual respect for everyone’s culture and vigilance about notoffending any cultures.They do “other things besides play.,” Nilsa says. “We try to give them asmuch as we possible can”, by, for example, giving families Cool CultureCards, which allow students to attend museums.
Promoting CultureWhen they make cultural foods, they speak to the kids about where thefood comes from. Celina recounts, “We made guacamole and said to thekids, ‘Where does this guacamole come from. We want them to know whatdifferent cultures have.” They make tortillas as well and had a showcase forthe Mexican culture (she estimates that 60% of students are Mexican).“We like educating them about culture, who they are,” Celina states. Theyhave also has showcases about the Puerto Rican culture, and duringFebruary, had a celebration of African-American culture. A parentvolunteered to buy costumes from Africa and she came in to take students’measurements for the costumes.
Parent InvolvementRecruitment is “based on letting parents know the service. They have acurriculum…it’s not about sleeping like daycare.” Nilsa also talks aboutparent involvement in the classrooms.Nilsa insists that “you have to think family-wise” and the program does so.Bilingual Head Start feels like a family, a community. The FamilyEngagement staff do home visits- this Is “not based on what [the family] hasbut on safety, making sure they have window guards, no chippings, heatand hot water in the wintertime [and] enough of an environment beneficialfor growth.” They train parents on safety, parenting, and preventing childabuse- “whatever [parents] need, they can request” and the program fulfillsthose needs. There are even Zumba classes for the parents. Parents canbring friends along as well so the classes are open to the community.
Parent InvolvementAt the time that she began her involvement in the program, Nilsa lived twoblocks away. She was attracted by the idea of parent participation, thoughshe didn’t know the program would let the parents participate more thanpublic schools did. She had “family workers [who] motivated [her] to gettinginvolved and going back to school.” The family workers made her feel like[she] was somebody and made [her] want to start something new,volunteering in classrooms, helping out community meetings. In 1991, whilein the Delegate Agency Parents’ Committee (DAPC), she was asked if shewanted to work at the school.
Parent InvolvementOne challenge that exists is that many parents do not speak English well. Tocombat the lack of English, the program offers ESL classes. Being bilingualallows parents to maintain their culture but also navigate through Americansociety. The latter is important to the health mission of the programbecause parents are encouraged to ask for information about the foodsthey buy.Nilsa feels that low-income parents with a lot of children may struggle tobuy healthy foods and keep up with the nutrition. Some of the parents donot receive forms of public assistance other than Food Stamps and perhapsMedicaid, though she believes that most parents in the program are onpublic assistance and may make $200 a week. ‘Parent coordinatorsadvocate for parents to get healthy food with the food stamps.”
Parent InvolvementCelina describes, “Parents get excited about bringing cooking ingredientsand helping out with the classrooms or customs.” She gives the example ofthe Senegalese costumes that a parent ordered for the African-Americanculture celebration.
Visions for the ProgramNilsa hopes to see more computers at the program. There are “goodcomputerized programs [they kids] could benefit from. 10 Minutes eachday would get them even more focused and interested.”Celina hopes for more one-on-one contact with the children- the wish ofevery teacher, she says- but believes that the program addresses all aspectsof their students’ lives. They make sure that parents are comfortableenough to voice their needs to Rita Prats or other administrators who thenwork towards implementing workshops, services, or activities targetedtowards these needs.
Conclusion There is a wealth of information that we can obtain from this program. It has createdmany initiatives to help its families and has shaped their views on health while alsoretaining the cultural aspects of food. It has provided outcomes because teachers and parents understand the balance betweenhealthy foods and sweets. Furthermore, children, as well as teachers and parents, aregiven health literacy, as opposed to being forced to change habits without anyunderstanding of why and how. By doing so, and by making healthy food available tofamilies, the program targets the different factors that create “food deserts.” A questionremains as to the supermarket affordability of healthy foods- there was disagreementamong interviewees on this issue. More research needs to be conducted as to who can orcannot afford these foods. This program provides a community solution to the health problems among residents,problems that are occurring nation-wide. Archiving the program highlights theseaccomplishments and gives it a different platform. The interviews and photos will bearchived at Hunter’s Centro for Puerto Rican studies where people from the communitycan access the documents and learn more about the program’s activities.