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Mel Gravely
January-07-2023

What is Head Start’s New “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging” Initiative?

Mel Gravely, M.S. and Dr. Desiree Del-Zio, Ed.D, researched the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) initiative and monitored hundreds of program practices meant to achieve the D.E.I.&B federal expectations. They will present this information to attendees of the Region IV 2023 Annual Training Conference and Expo (2/21/23-2/24/23), offering a day-long, in-depth and immersive learning experience to understand these federal expectations better. In The Gravely Group’s Pre-Conference Seminar, hosted on 2/21/2023, Head Start leaders will learn practical approaches to developing short and long-term plans to meet these federal expectations while improving organizational outcomes, staff morale, and family engagement. Register here (choose Pre-Conference B).

So What’s the Big Deal about Promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) in Head Start Programs?

Because the Federal Government says so? Because DEI&B strategies and outcomes could affect continued funding? Because in a highly diverse and underserved program landscape, it’s the right thing to do?

How about all of the above?

In the wake of increasing awareness about the positive outcomes associated with DEI&B strategies and fostering diverse workforce populations to serve diverse communities, Executive Order 14035 was signed into law in June 2021. The order charges federally funded programs, including Head Start agencies, to establish strategies to address inequities and promote diversity, belonging, and inclusion in organizational structures and systems.

While this initiative hosts infinite possibilities for short- and long-term change planning and improvements, many Head Start programs aren’t clear on what this means for them or how to consider achieving the initiative in their organization. Moreover, the Office of Head Start monitors the practices and outcomes of programs’ initiatives and strategies in the Focus Area One and Two monitoring events, creating anxiety amid what may already seem ambiguous to program leaders.

What exactly does the Office of Head Start mean by Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B)?

The reality is that most programs do not know. National attention has increased DEI&B dialogue in the past few years, expanding the Country’s appetite for discussions about fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, identity, ability, or spiritual affiliations. While this seems logical and perhaps something Head Start agencies have always done, the reality is that programs across the nation continue to grapple with these concepts. Dr. Desiree Del-Zio, Ed.D conducted hundreds of federal reviews asking programs how their DEI&B strategic plans improve outcomes for all staff and families. The bottom line is that Head Start leaders need help understanding exactly what DEI&B strategies really look like and how to bring them to fruition in their unique environments.

The Federal Government recognizes that the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families is the largest grant maker in the nation. As one of its most influential and essential grant recipients, Head Start program leaders must strive to get this right, if for nothing more than it is the right thing to do. More importantly, families who feel included in their child’s early education are more likely to engage with their children’s lifelong educational journey. And children whose parents are involved in their academic journey are more likely to succeed in the classroom, pursue secondary and postgraduate degrees, and develop a lifelong love of learning. As such, DEI&B strategies and successful implementation could not be more critical to kindergarten and school readiness.

 

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