What a difference a year makes.
At the beginning of the school year, William* was struggling in the pre-K class at Upbring Karam Center Head Start. Though the 4-year-old boy was advanced for his age — able to read, write and more — he had trouble communicating and self-soothing, and he was easily overstimulated.
Thanks to his Family Engagement Advocate, Lauria Brown, William was connected with a doctor who was able to determine an autism diagnosis, leading to more support for the family. Now he is thriving and looks forward to going to school every day. And this spring, William became one of 813 remarkable children who graduated from our Upbring Head Start pre-K classes statewide — ready and eager for kindergarten.
This graduation season, we celebrate every child who has reached an important milestone in their education, from finishing high school or college to transitioning to kindergarten or first grade. At Upbring, a lifelong love of learning starts with our Head Start, Early Head Start and Upbring School of Arts & Sciences (USAS) early childhood education programs in Texas.
Giving Kids a Head Start
Upbring Head Start Preschool provides a safe, inclusive place to learn, grow and thrive that is free to eligible low-income families. The program is designed to ensure students have the academic and life skills they need to be ready for kindergarten. Each child has an individual learning plan, and each family is connected with an Upbring Family Engagement Advocate who helps connect them with wraparound support. With these much-needed resources, the children and families we serve leave Head Start empowered, more resilient and ready for the next step.
Upon William’s autism diagnosis, Head Start teachers Ms. Simmons and Ms. Harvey adapted and enhanced classroom activities, empowering him to communicate. They also helped the other children understand and respect how William would like to be treated. That support made all the difference for the little boy and his future success.
“How my family wishes he could stay another year with Upbring,” said William’s mom. “My thanks and gratitude have no measure to the Upbring Head Start staff. I want to thank everyone for all their help, time, patience, and most of all your love for me and my family.”
Head Start is open to children ages 3 to 5, while Early Head Start enrolls children up to age 2. So it’s not unusual for someone to be part of the program from infancy through pre-K, as was the case with three children who graduated from Upbring Bay City Head Start this year. There our Upbring staff worked together to save the ceremony from inclement weather, pulling off a beautiful event for families. After the heart-warming celebration, each child received a backpack filled with school supplies.
In the South Fort Worth region alone, 156 children graduated from our Head Start program in May and June. “Our Upbring Warriors are changemakers,” said Wendy Kauffman, Upbring Head Start Regional Director. “Being ready for kindergarten sets up our students for success.”
A Bittersweet Moment
Meanwhile USAS, Upbring’s private preschool in Austin, provides a high-quality education with a focus on innovation and exploration. This spring 14 children graduated from pre-K and seven children graduated from the school’s first KinderLab class.
Leigh Savacool, USAS KinderLab teacher and Curriculum Coordinator who joined the school when it first opened in 2017, has been with her class for two years as they started in pre-K and then transitioned to KinderLab together. Some of the children have been at USAS since they were taking their very first steps, making their graduation even more bittersweet. At the ceremony, the children read poems they wrote about how they’re feeling about moving on to another school in the fall.
Leigh’s biggest goal has been for her students to be good, kind and accepting of everyone. The class’s favorite activity was “chit chat time,” where they could talk about their feelings and what was going on in their lives, and ask questions. Leigh shared this helped them process the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel that I have created a safe environment where children can learn but also be able to express themselves and feel loved,” said Leigh. “I am so proud of each of these children and can’t wait to see what the future holds for them!”
The Power of Education
Education has the power to prevent child abuse from ever happening, and so we design our programs to have impact that will last for generations. From infancy through high school and beyond, we give children a top-tier, inclusive, trauma-informed education while also strengthening their families.
Upbring’s youngest graduates are not only academically prepared for the next stage of school, but they have also learned a thing or two about making friends, trying new things and helping others. We are so proud of each of our little graduates and the big impact they’ll have on the world!
*William’s story is true, but we used a pseudonym to protect his privacy.