The Chickasaw Nation Head Start program turns 40 this year, and Hazel Wallace has been involved since its inception. From having her children in the inaugural class and volunteering her time as a parent-teacher, to assisting parents with resources they may need, Wallace has dedicated her life to caring for children.
Officially having worked at the Chickasaw Nation Head Start in Ada for more than 33 years, Wallace’s tenure with the program began years before.
Her oldest boys, Jeremy and Jason, were two of the original 33 students in the class of 1979, the same year she began working as a volunteer. Her two younger children would also eventually participate in the program, as would her grandchildren.
“My sons were in the first class,” Wallace said. “I got involved because my two oldest boys went to Head Start. My husband, Joe, and I would do whatever the teachers needed of us. I love Head Start, the people who work here, and the children. I feel that Head Start prepares our children to succeed in public school.”
Wallace began working as a paid staffer in 1986.
As a federally funded program, Head Start is designed to promote school readiness for children up to the age of five from low-income families. Studies conducted by the federal government have shown children who complete Head Start are better students overall, including into their high school years.
“The success I have as a parent I partly attribute to Head Start,” Wallace said. “I am proud of my children and grandchildren. I feel like a success because I was able to be here with them, first as a volunteer, then as a teacher.”
The Chickasaw Nation has a proven history of valuing those involved with education. Early in her career, the tribe assisted Wallace with attaining certifications in early childhood development, a requirement for Head Start teachers.
“The Chickasaw Nation has taken care of my educational needs,” Wallace said. “They helped me receive the CDA (Child Development Associate credential) so I could teach. They helped me get my license to drive the bus, if needed. I feel honored they continue to invest in my education.”
While teaching continues to be a part of Wallace’s life, it is not what she currently does on a daily basis.
“My job is a family service worker,” Wallace said. “While I often find myself in the classrooms, my daily function is to make sure children are healthy and receiving the support they deserve.”
As a family service worker, Wallace arranges hearing, dental and other health screenings. Wallace works with parents to make sure they understand any additional services for which their family may qualify.
“If parents need something for their children, I find the resources to help them,” she said.
To be better prepared for her role as a family service worker, Wallace attended East Central University where she received a Bachelor of Social Work in the spring semester of 2019.
“I am the first person in my family to finish college,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t have done it without the support from my family. My co-workers were really supportive as well.”
Wallace said she plans to continue supporting the education of children, ensuring the prosperity of the Chickasaw Nation for generations to come.
About the Chickasaw Nation Early
Childhood and Head Start Program
The Chickasaw Nation Early Childhood and Head Start program is a center-based federal and tribally funded program that promotes school readiness of children from ages 3 to 5 years.
The program philosophy is based on the principle that early childhood education should address children’s needs in all areas of development: physical, social, emotional and cognitive. It should provide support and assistance to all those who affect the child’s development. The child’s entire family, as well as the community, should be involved.
The Chickasaw Nation Early Childhood and Head Start program is family-focused. The family is viewed as the most important influence in a child’s life. To meet these needs, the program offers components in education, parent/guardian involvement, health, social services and services for children with disabilities.
Through an interdisciplinary approach of all components and parent policy council group, this philosophy is reflected in every aspect of the early childhood education experience. The center environments will provide children the opportunity to develop to their maximum potential.
The Chickasaw Nation Head Start has grown to include centers in Ada, Ardmore, Sulphur and Tishomingo.
With a long history and national funding, Head Start is one of the most studied social programs in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services webpage, Early Head Start children show significantly better social-emotional, language and cognitive development. Children who attend Early Head Start and transition to Head Start are better prepared for traditional school than children who do not attend Head Start.
Head Start children make progress toward norms in language, literacy and math. The children also score at the norm on letter-word knowledge by the end of the year, and have better social skills, impulse control and approaches to learning. Head Start children also show a decrease in problem behaviors, such as aggression and hyperactivity.
Head Start children are more likely to receive dental checkups and have healthy eating patterns than non-participants. They have lower body mass index scores and are generally in better health. Children in Head Start are also more likely to be immunized.
The lasting effects of these benefits can be felt for a lifetime. According to an article published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, former Head Start students are more likely to graduate high school and attend at least one year of college. They are also more likely to be employed as adults.