Hope + Hard Work = Success

By Lakita Oats

At 18 years old, I had no permanent address, no income, and a three-year-old daughter who was not in school. I was in Chicago at the time, relying completely on the support of friends and family to get by. I was truly homeless, about to move into a shelter with my daughter before a friend offered me a place to stay temporarily. After that, I moved between other friends’ houses, still desperate and in need of something more permanent and stable. One day a friend referred me to what I thought was just a nice daycare. It turned out to be so much more.

Latika Oats and her mother
Mother and Daughter

In 2008, I enrolled my daughter in the Head Start program. It was everything we needed as mother and daughter: education, support, resources, even a second family. I was excited to be part of something so positive during a time in my life that was not. I joined the program’s Parent Committee and Policy Council, and even became a Policy Council Secretary (a position that grew skills I would use later in my career). I also had some college hours which the Family Support Specialists encouraged me to build on by getting back into a university. So, I enrolled at a community college and started taking classes.

During my second pregnancy, Head Start remained involved with my whole family, continuing to support our goals. While life was still not exactly where I knew it could be, I continued taking college classes and started living with my aunt and uncle, who had graciously opened their home to me though they hardly had space left to give.

Around the same time, program staff asked if I would like to be a part of a new Doula program they were offering to pregnant mothers. I was grateful for this additional path of support, receiving assistance throughout my pregnancy. Within eight weeks of my second daughter’s birth, I was able to enroll her in an Early Child Education program, where she received a tremendous amount of support from the staff just as my older daughter and I had. The second family I had grown to know and love at Head Start was helping my immediate family grow to know and love each other.

Now a mother of two, I started to transition my focus from ensuring a healthy pregnancy into establishing an opportunity-filled life for both of my girls. I could not completely support them without first supporting myself. So, I enrolled in a job placement program offered through the state of Illinois, and soon found employment.

In less than two years, I had grown from a frightening time in my life as a homeless single mother to a stable parent with the promise of a future for her children.

Once I started working, I was able to move into an apartment of my own. My oldest daughter went to kindergarten prepared for what was to come, and my youngest started in her new program. In less than two years, I had grown from a frightening time in my life as a homeless single mother to a stable parent with the promise of a future for her children. Every move I made, I made for my girls and for the future of my family, and while the success I found would not have been possible without my drive and desire to achieve the life I knew was possible, I was so appreciative for every person who helped shape the woman I was becoming and the mother I was so proud to be.

Latika and her family during graduation
Latika and her family

I was in my own apartment with my children for more than a year until I moved to Missouri to join my future husband. There, I enrolled at Columbia College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human services. I wanted to help others the way others had helped me. I wanted to prove to people what they were capable of when they were given the right tools to accomplish what they wanted.

I worked toward my degree until 2015. By then, I was married, had three daughters, and was on my way to South Korea, accompanying my husband on a deployment in the U.S. Army. I had to put my educational goals on hold during my two years in Korea, as the time difference and busy schedule made even online courses a difficult option. However, during the break from college, I gained valuable experience as a Child and Youth Program Assistant, serving children in classrooms and after-school programs. My time there reaffirmed that I was on the right path: I definitely wanted to continue working with children and families.

When my family returned to the U.S., we moved to South Texas, where I learned about the opportunities available through BCFS Education Services. I took a position as a Family Specialist with BCFS Education Services, helping people on the other side of a story I had lived only a few years before. I continue to serve families in this way today.

Thinking back on where I’ve been and where I’m going, I credit what I learned from the Head Start program years ago as a teenage mother. The family specialists who served me showed me what was possible. They revealed a path that eventually gave me work experience, educational advice, maternal support, and most importantly, hope. I was able to take those pieces and build something truly meaningful and lasting. It was not always obvious where I was headed along the way, but it was always clear that I was moving.

In 2018, I earned my degree from Columbia College with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services. I travelled more than four hours to the graduation ceremony so that I could walk across the stage and receive my diploma. I did this intentionally. I did it in the presence of my three children, to show them what was possible – to make a point that life was only as good as you worked to make it.

Am I doing enough for the parents and children I work with? Am I doing as much as what was done for me?

Latika celebrating her graduation
Hard work and success

Now that I am serving as a Family Specialist, sometimes it can feel like I am not living up to the level of service that I was given as a young mother. Sometimes I question, “Am I doing enough for the parents and children I work with? Am I doing as much as what was done for me?” Still, I recognize that I am new to much of this, being on the other side of the situation. Coming so far does not mean I have made it; it means there is still a long way to go. For now, the most important thing I can be is a support for the families who need someone strong to lean on. The best gift I can give is my time and my openness to communicate, my willingness to provide whatever is needed to give families a future.

Even though I am staying busy in Texas with three daughters, a husband, and a new career, I still find time to visit Chicago every once and a while. Whenever I visit, I always enjoy meeting up family Specialists that were so important to my daughters and me. You could call it a second-family reunion.

BCFS Education Services’ Head Start Expands to Victoria, Jackson, Calhoun, Gonzales, Dewitt and Lavaca Counties

The federal Office of Head Start awarded BCFS Education Services the Head Start program in Victoria, Jackson, Calhoun, Gonzales, Dewitt and Lavaca counties, beginning this upcoming school year. BCFS Education Services is a well-established Head Start provider, serving nearly 2,000 students and families throughout Texas.

BCFS Education Services will provide full-day preschool for 450 children, ages 3-5, in its first year, and 467 children in subsequent years. The full-day classroom model is part of a national movement led by the Office of Head Start aimed at bolstering school readiness for children gearing up for kindergarten.

BCFS Education Services’ Head Start not only provides individualized teaching, bilingual services, disability services, and healthy meals and snacks, but goes beyond the classroom to offer support services – such as trainings for parents and caregivers – that make a long-term impact on families’ quality of life.

BCFS Education Services is working closely with the previous provider and federal Office of Head Start to ensure an easy and seamless transition for children, families and community partners.

Information for Parents

Parents who have already submitted paperwork for their child’s enrollment or whose child is a returning student will be contacted by BCFS Education Services in July to confirm receipt of paperwork and enrollment.

Parents who have not already enrolled their child can still do so by contacting BCFS Education Services at 1 (855) 742-5010. Applications are available online at DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart, along with a list of required enrollment documents.

Recruitment and Staffing

The new service area will employ more than 90 personnel in various positions. Opportunities to join BCFS Education Services are open to all applicants, and staff of the previous Head Start provider must apply for a position with the new program. Interested applicants may visit www.BCFSjobs.com or attend a job fair hosted by BCFS Education Services the week of July 10th in the Victoria area. Specific date, time and location of the job fair will be posted on our website at www.BCFSJobs.com.

BCFS Education Services’ Head Start program provides:

  • Preschool
  • Individualized teaching
  • Degreed teachers
  • Bilingual services
  • Social services
  • Parent trainings
  • Meals and snacks
  • Disability services
  • Dental exams
  • Mental wellness
  • Health services
  • Field trips

A child is eligible to enroll in Head Start if he/she falls into one of the following categories:

  • The child is in foster care
  • The family is homeless
  • The family receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • The family has a gross income below federal poverty guidelines
  • The child has a family member living with and supported by the child’s family receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

To be eligible, the child must be 3 or 4 years old on or before September 1, 2017 and live in one of the serviced counties. For more information about BCFS Education Services, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart.

Gleaming Smiles at BCFS Education Services Head Start

Local Dentist Keeps BCFS Education Services Students' Smiles Gleaming

Meet Dr. Espino and BCFS Education Services Head Start student Garrett. They are all smiles for a reason. Dr. Espino of Republic Dental is a Head Start community partner in Atascosa County. Dr. Espino kindly provides pro bono dental treatment for some families in need in the Atascosa area. He has been practicing in Pleasanton, Texas, for 3 years. In 2016, he took over the Republic Dental practice. Since beginning his practice, Dr. Espino has made a huge impact on his community and built a reputation as a kind, caring dentist for all ages.

When asked about his philosophy in providing care, Dr. Espino says, “I have long valued the principle of service. For years, I have been involved in a non-profit organization with a mission based on the principle of service. I feel fortunate to be in a position to serve and give. I think Gandhi said it best when he stated, ’the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’”

Garrett, a BCFS Education Services Head Start student in Jourdanton, Texas, visited Dr. Espino’s office earlier this year. A typical morning in Garrett’s Head Start classroom includes breakfast time. When asked about the treatment on his teeth, Garrett gave a big smile, pointed to his teeth, and said they no longer hurt him. He then went back to happily eating his breakfast with his friends and classmates.

A special thanks to Dr. Espino for helping our children have healthy teeth and happy smiles!

Toddler with Autism Thrives in Head Start Classroom

At three years old, Iridessa struggled to communicate, to sit still and to follow directions – all difficult symptoms of her autism diagnosis. Her mom, Audrey, was unsure where she could enroll her daughter in a preschool environment that would help her excel. After Audrey met with the local school district, Iridessa was referred to BCFS Education Services Head Start in Skidmore for the 2016-17 school year.

Photo: Iridessa

“We spoke with her mom about Iridessa coming into the program,” explains Head Start Director Roxanna Lopez Garza, “and she was apprehensive because she knew Iridessa had never been in a school setting. She worried about how she was going to react in a classroom of other children.”

Head Start promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children by providing educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and their families.

“It’s the most appropriate setting for a child that age,” says Lopez Garza of the Head Start classroom. “Our students are around other children the same age, our classrooms offer students consistency and of course, our academics prepare them for when they start school.”

With the characteristics of Iridessa’s autism, her first days in Head Start were, admittedly, challenging.

“She would run out of the room, she might throw a tantrum and be inconsolable, and be aggressive,” recalls Lopez Garza. “She wasn’t doing it to be malicious, that’s just how she was expressing herself.”

Iridessa began the school year incapable of using eating utensils or drinking through a straw, she could not sit still with her other classmates and would lash out when her teachers tried to redirect her. Head Start instructors immediately began working to help stem her disruptive behavior. Exciting results soon followed. Halfway through the school year, Iridessa’s instructors reported noticing great strides in her classroom conduct.

“She has learned so much,” beams Head Start teacher Blanca Sanchez. “Her self-help skills have improved, she has a little bit more patience and she can clean up after herself.”

Sanchez also mentions that Iridessa is more accepting of redirection and manages her feelings much better than at the beginning of the school year. And though she is nonverbal, Iridessa will join in the Pledge of Allegiance with her classmates, and she even tries to participate in class singalong time. These improvements were some of the most thrilling for Iridessa, her mother and teachers to celebrate in their attempts to improve Iridessa’s communication skills.

Iridessa’s teachers have also noticed that she is learning the routine of the classroom, a noteworthy milestone for a student Iridessa’s age with her diagnosis.

“At first, she wasn’t able to come sit with us for circle time,” explains Sanchez, “but now when I call her group, Iridessa is ready. She sees me sitting in my chair and she knows that we’re ready to start the day.”

While Iridessa has made tremendous breakthroughs with Head Start, her instructors are anxious to see her make even more progress.

“We would love to hear her using words, and also to see her learn her colors, her alphabet, and a little more of her self-help skills,” explains Sanchez, “because right now, she’s not potty trained yet.”

True to the Head Start model of engaging parents in their children’s education, Iridessa’s mom also works with Iridessa at home on her daughter’s educational goals. A few months into the school year, Iridessa’s mom and Mrs. Sanchez witnessed a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime moment for little Iridessa.

“She told Mrs. Trevino, our supervisor who works closely with Iridessa daily, ‘I love you,’” says Sanchez, “and her mom started crying because she said she had never heard Iridessa say that.”

While Iridessa’s educational needs differ from those of her classmates, Head Start instructors ensure she receives the attention and guidance necessary to keep her on a path toward becoming prepared for academic success as she gets older. In only the first half of the school year, with all the challenges that autism presents her, Iridessa has shown exceptional developmental growth through the support of her attentive Head Start teachers.

For more information about BCFS Education Services Head Start, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart.

Registration Information for Comfort ISD Head Start

BCFS Education Services is proud to announce a new partnership between Comfort Independent School District and our Head Start program. Beginning in August 2015, we will hold full day Head Start classes on the Comfort Elementary School campus, and will follow the school’s calendar. There will be 40 Head Start spots open in Comfort, available to families that live in the Comfort school district.
Families will need to visit Comfort Elementary School to register their students for Head Start. Below is information about upcoming “Registration Round-Ups.” If you are unable to attend these registration events, you may also apply at Comfort Elementary School during school hours.
Comfort ISD Registration Round-Up Events:
May 17, 2015 1pm – 3pm
June 7, 2015 1pm – 3pm
Comfort Elementary School
605 3rd Street, Comfort, Texas 78013
(830) 995-6410
Four-year-old students will be given priority for registration, however we still encourage families with younger children to apply, as the remaining spaces will be filled by eligible 3-year-olds.
BCFS Education Services is very excited about this partnership and confident this will be a great benefit to our Comfort students. Children will attend Head Start classes in the same building that will eventually be their kindergarten classrooms, making them more comfortable with their environment and ready to learn!
Questions? Please contact our office at (830) 331-8908.