Capital Area Head Start (CAHS) is a community-based early childhood program offering services to pregnant women, children ages 0-5, and their families. We have a vision of a world where all children are safe, healthy, and loved, with active opportunities for learning. By supporting families to gain the skills and confidence they need to achieve their goals, we are empowering them with a sense of hope for the future.

This has been a very successful year for Capital Area Head Start. We maintained 100% enrollment each month, serving a funded total of 1,138 children and families. Ninety-six point five percent of the children in Head Start and Early Head Start meet 100% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. Of the children who were enrolled in CAHS, 97% of children in Head Start and 100% of children in Early Head Start received medical exams and 98% of children in Head Start and 100% of children in Early Head Start received dental exams, an important part of every child’s health and well-being. Ninety-three percent of Head Start and Early Head Start children are up to date with immunizations.

In the Secretary’s triennial federal monitoring review in 2014, no areas of noncompliance were found.  In addition, there were no findings or material weaknesses as a result of the last financial audit dated June 30, 2015.

Community-Wide Strategic Planning and Needs Assessment (Community Assessment)

To design a program that meets community needs and builds on strengths and resources, a program must conduct a community assessment at least once over the five-year grant period (with an annual review and update to reflect any significant changes). The community assessment uses data that describes community strengths, needs, and resources and includes, at a minimum, information on the number of eligible children; the education, health, nutrition and social service needs of these children and their families; typical work, school, and training schedules of parents; and resources that are available in the community to address the needs of eligible children and their families.

View the 2015-2016 Community Assessment Summary (PDF, opens new window)

Parent Engagement

We believe that parents are the first and foremost teachers of their children, and we encourage family participation in CAHS activities. We engage parents as partners to help their children progress. All of our centers and home-based locations facilitate parent meetings, including workshops on nutrition, transitioning to school, family night, budgeting, parenting, children’s health, and other topics requested by parents.
The “Parents as Staff Succeed” (PASS) initiative, established as a support venue for Head Start parents who transition into the role of staff, continued for a sixth year. As many as 24 different individuals attended the two sessions held during the year, both of which focused on personal wellness.  Participants expressed that they benefited from and appreciated these opportunities, and were motivated to continue the PASS initiative into a seventh year. Two sessions will be scheduled for the 2016-2017 program year, extending the focus on personal and career development.

PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

In the last five years, the number of reports of unsafe behaviors appeared to be noticeably increasing. A closer look at data related to unsafe behavior began in the fall of 2012. This increase was noted throughout the Head Start community. We began to speculate that in the face of dwindling community resources, there were many children and families facing more complex and challenging needs. We knew that we often serve the most vulnerable children and families, with many experiencing trauma, homelessness, foster care, family stress, and community violence. Therefore, during the 2013-2014 program year, the decision was made to move forward with the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) initiative at CAHS. This approach is designed to provide a more focused approach to reduce challenging behaviors and to equip staff with the skills needed to create an environment in which all children can succeed.

Our program motto “Take care of yourself. Take care of your friends. Take care of your home and school.”  is at the heart of PBIS implementation. Below are some accomplishments to date and the ongoing effects of the PBIS model:

  • At the August all-staff training event, there was a continued focus on building relationships and on trauma informed practices.
  • A brochure detailing PBIS, as well as magnets with the program motto was sent home to families to encourage their participation in the program-wide initiative.
  • As a program, we have made a commitment to the bucket filling philosophy.
  • We created an explicit plan to teach the program-wide expectations, with each of the first three weeks of school focusing on a piece of our program motto.
  • We have implemented a staff reinforcement system to recognize staff that are following and promoting our program-wide motto. When a staff member takes care of himself or herself, their friends, or their home and school, they receive a Buck-et. On the back, a statement is written to explain why the staff person is receiving the Buck-et. The Buck-ets can be cashed in for prizes from the PBIS store or a spot at an event, such as Zumba.
  • We introduced the Silver Bucket Award, which was given to two staff teams who best exemplified the PBIS motto. The Silver Bucket Award will be given out again this program year.
  • As part of a pilot program for CAHS, teaching staff from various centers, along with coordinators, support staff, and center directors who support those sites participated in Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) training. Drawing on current findings in the field of neuroscience, CARE offers instruction in cognitive and emotional skills that help reduce stress by promoting understanding, recognition, and regulation of emotion.

Educational Outcomes

Teachers and home visitors in the Head Start and Early Head Start programs use an evidence-based, ongoing, individualized assessment process to ensure that all children are progressing toward school readiness and the children’s ongoing individualized goals. Children’s progress is formally rated three times each year. In 2014-2015, CAHS adopted the use of the Child Observation Record (COR), a research-based assessment aligned with our HighScope curriculum, which is used by CAHS in all center and home based settings. COR is designed to assess children ages 0-5 years, on a continuum of growth from infancy through preschool.

Children are assessed using COR, according to 34 indicators across eight developmental domains, which include Approaches to Learning, Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development and Health, Language, Literacy and Communication, Mathematics, Creative Arts, Science and Technology, and Social Studies. Based on extensive and ongoing anecdotal observations, teachers and home visitors assign a rating to each child’s progress in all indicators three times a year in October, February, and May. COR also allows for meaningful parent input, as parents share observations of children’s progress at home with the teaching staff. These observations are incorporated into the assessment to help provide a more complete picture of each child’s growth and development.

  • Educational outcomes in 2015-16 for children ages 0-5 showed growth in all domains, with the highest rates of growth shown in Emotions, Phonological Awareness and Motor Skills (preschool), and Emotions, Experimenting/Predicting, and Large Motor Skills (birth-3). For both Head Start and Early Head Start, Building Relationships with Other Children was also an area of strength. Building Relationships with Adults was a strength for children in Early Head Start.
  • Numbers and Counting was an area of strength for three and four year olds.
  • Social Emotional Development continues to be a focus for CAHS, with emphasis needed on skills such as recognizing and expressing emotions and conflict resolution. Outcomes from 2015-16 show notable growth in these areas.

Pennsylvania’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) approves a limited number of research-based assessments for use in state-funded programs. 2014-2015 was the first year that HighScope’s Child Observation Record applied for this approval and received it. PA has been working closely with HighScope to ensure that the data translates accurately to the state’s data system. We are awaiting further information regarding outcome benchmarks from OCDEL, and have established our own program benchmarks from the past two years of data.

View the Head Start 2015-2016 Child Outcomes: Executive Summary (PDF, opens new window)

School Readiness Goals

CAHS has program goals for school readiness, which include goals for children ages 0-5 and goals for parents and families in all areas of development. Our school readiness goals align with PA Early Learning Standards and the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework.  They promote skills to prepare children for success in school and in life and were developed with input from parents and school districts. Our school readiness goals have been revised to reflect our new assessment, the HighScope Child Observation Record. 

View the school readiness goals (English (PDF, opens new window), Español (PDF, opens new window))

Kindergarten Preparation

An integral part of our school readiness goals is preparing children for kindergarten. This preparation begins long before the final year before kindergarten, as even infants and toddlers are supported in their learning to acquire the skills they need to grow and develop. As noted earlier, CAHS provides comprehensive services and activities to support children to grow educationally, emotionally, socially, and physically. Our classrooms use the HighScope curriculum, which is based on key developmental indicators that align with the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards, to ensure a quality learning experience. These developmental indicators focus on:

  • Approaches to learning
  • Language, literacy and communication
  • Social and emotional development
  • Mathematics
  • Creative arts
  • Science and technology
  • Social studies
  • Physical development and health

Outcomes are collected in all these areas. The HighScope curriculum also includes indicators for English language learners as they begin to acquire English.

CAHS uses the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum to assist children to learn important social and emotional skills for success in school and life. Children learn feelings identification, empathy, cooperative play, fair play skills, and problem solving.

To support and assist children and families to successfully transition to kindergarten, teachers carefully plan activities to introduce the school experience, including:

  • Visiting kindergarten classrooms
  • Meeting kindergarten staff
  • Transitions: From the Children’s Perspective (video) (available online (external website))
  • Sharing photos and/or pen pal letters with kindergarten classrooms
  • Reading books about going to kindergarten
  • Creating “school” dramatic play opportunities

In addition to prepare parents for their children going to kindergarten, we provide them with information about the transition process. We hold parent meeting discussions and provide parents with informational flyers on kindergarten registration and orientation, and remind parents of this information through handouts and newsletters. In addition, CAHS staff attend community group meetings and training that address communication, collaboration, and supporting families through the transition process. Staff work regularly to build and maintain relationships with the school staff in the districts where our children and families live.

Grants and Partnerships

We received several grants and formed new partnerships to benefit children and families.

  • Capital Area Head Start has over 30 Community Partnership Agreements.
  • We have received a Health Care Institute Grant. This is a 5 year commitment working toward health literacy to enable all parents to be more informed and knowledgeable in order to effectively meet the healthcare needs of their children.
  • We have a new community partnership with the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank, a small nonprofit organization that partners with agencies working with families in need. They have committed to supply diapers for up to 10 CAHS families who are struggling to provide diapers for their children. So far, six families have benefitted from the Diaper Bank services, receiving needed diapers at no cost.
  • The Foundation for Enhancing Communities has received a three-year Community Innovation Zone grant from OCDEL (Office of Child Development and Learning). CAHS and the Harrisburg School District will participate in this project. Representatives from OCDEL, PA State Government, grantees, Harrisburg School District, and CAHS, as well as others, attended the public announcement of the grant at Downey School. They also toured two preschool classrooms.
  • The Nutrition Component was extremely pleased to offer six “Family Champions” Nutrition Workshops, made possible by the receipt of a grant from the Office of Head Start that included curriculum instruction and tie-in from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  These presentations were comprised of six individual hour-long workshops that incorporated nutrition education and cooking a healthy meal.  The following topics were included in the presentations:  “Shop Smart,” “Cook Healthy,” Eat Right,” “Rest Well,” and “Play Hard,” which covered a range of issues from shopping for healthier items on a budget, to incorporating daily physical activity, to limiting screen time and establishing routines like a healthy bedtime.  The workshops included prizes, handouts, and the opportunity to sample one of the “No Recipe Entrees” discussed in the session.  Parents, grandparents, and family members were pleased to attend, and left learning more about being healthy and making the best choices for their children and themselves.

Other Notable Accomplishments

We celebrated many notable accomplishments both inside and outside the classroom.

  • The Capital Area Head Start CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring System) program average for 2015-16 exceeds the federal benchmark by 38% in emotional support, 48% in classroom organization, and 55% in instructional support. CAHS also falls above the 2012 national Bottom 10% average by 15% (emotional support), 21% (classroom organization), and 41% (instructional support). The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is a tool used to measure adult-child interaction in all of our classrooms. It examines the areas of Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, and Instructional Support.
  • In 2016, our staff were represented on two school district teams at the Pennsylvania Governor’s Institute for Early Childhood. The focus again was on working together for student success. Plans to strengthen transition into both Central Dauphin and Susquehanna School Districts were developed by the teams.

Mission Related Achievements

  • An Early Head Start (EHS) parent who formerly served as a Policy Council representative was elected head of the women’s and children’s department of the Bhutanese Community of Harrisburg. She attributes this achievement to her experience with EHS.   This same parent is being honored by CAHS by being involved in the planting of commemorative rose bushes at the CAHS administrative building to mark Head Start’s 50th anniversary. 
  • One of our home visitors received a literacy award from the Capital Region Literacy Council.  
  • As a result of the classes held with men incarcerated at the Dauphin County Prison there are four Head Start fathers who have been journaling back and forth with their children.
  • A staff member attended her 14 year old granddaughter’s music honor society recognition at Newport School. Her granddaughter, as well as two of the other honorees, is a Head Start graduate! The three of them each had a different Perry County Home Visitor. Our staff person was struck by this example of how the effects of the Head Start program may reach into the future for children and families.
  • A family that has been involved with us for the last three years and has experienced many trials. However, this year there were many successes which included achieving six of their family goals: a driver’s license, a car, a job, and all fines paid, they moved and got furniture. This has all occurred in the past six months!
  • One of our classrooms had a tea party with the children. They sent invitations out to the parents and had 16 parents attend! It was a great event for the families and a wonderful opportunity to see the children put their "bucket filling" skills to good use as they served their parents tea and sandwiches. It was also a wonderful time for the classroom to come together as family and friends and celebrate all the things the children accomplished this school year. The teachers enjoyed sitting with the families and having real conversations and then watching them as they interacted with their children in the classroom.

Training and Cross Collaboration

  • The Patriot News featured a letter by our Director(9/16/15) “Head Start helps with early learning opportunities to ensure school success” PennLive letters
  • State Senator Teplitz joined us on a home visit to one of our families. He had the opportunity to see how parents are the first teachers of their children.
  • On November 7 CAHS was the proud host of this year’s CAAEYC (Capital Area Association for the Education of Young Children) Connect for Quality event. Three of our centers (HACC, MLK and Granite Street Center) were host sites. Every year CAAEYC focuses on one aspect of care that providers can learn more about and this year’s focus was on nurturing families.
  • We continue to explore ideas for a transitional classroom model as well as additional ways to strengthen what we currently have in place through the Joshua Center home based option. At the Joshua Center, we are engaging in more intentional planning around transitions into and out of the center and are using behavioral health staff to more directly support children and families while in Joshua.
  • Pre-K Counts expansion was received and accepted for an additional 48 students to be housed at Foose School. First day of class was March 14, 16.
  • Capital Area Head Start was accepted to the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness – UCLA Health Care Institute Training. Four staff attended training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The program is designed to help Head Start and Early Head Start grantees improve the health of their staff, families, and children, while strengthening the communities in which they work. The Institute is based on the UCLA Health Care Institute’s (HCI) comprehensive approach to health promotion. The HCI approach is an evidenced-based model that is proven to engage staff and families. It also improves class attendance and increases school readiness. This unique training program aims to transform the way grantees think and act about their culture of health. This training has proven to improve the health literacy of staff and families. Subject areas are strategically introduced so grantees are able to learn the material, integrate it into their organizations’ respective systems, and then to bring that learning into the community. This is a four year commitment.

Financial Information

We receive both public and private funds to continue our mission. Three quarters of our budget is spent on salaries and benefits, and the remaining funding is dedicated to service operations, including parent activities, classroom supplies and professional development.

Graph of Approved Budget for 2015-2016 Fiscal Year

Approved Budget for 2015-2016 Fiscal Year

Approved Budget for 2015-2016 Fiscal Year
Capital Area Intermediate Unit $219,693
Health and Human Services
Head Start $4,845,599
Early Head Start $1,435,595
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program $1,635,430
Pre K Counts $3,128,000
OCDEL Home visitation
MIECHV Formula $111,865
MIECHV Expansion $337,190
Total Received $11,713,372

Graph of Approved Budget for 2016-2017 Fiscal Year including COLA

Approved Budget for 2016-2017 Fiscal Year including COLA

Approved Budget for 2016-2017 Fiscal Year including COLA
Capital Area Intermediate Unit $219,693
Health and Human Services
Head Start $5,000,487
Early Head Start $1,435,595
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program $1,656,052
Pre K Counts $3,536,000
OCDEL Home visitation
MIECHV $449,055
Total Received $12,356,676


Balancing budgets through various funders remains an ongoing challenge. Although our waiting list numbers continue to increase, our funding does not. Another ongoing challenge is the ability to find stable, high quality, and affordable classroom space in the areas of greatest need in Harrisburg and Steelton, as well as qualified early childhood staff.

In addition, aggressive and unsafe behaviors occurring in classrooms have increased. To address these challenges, Capital Area Head Start, in coordination with Keystone Human Services, is actively participating in ongoing strategic planning to ensure that we continue to address the external and internal challenges, as well as maintain strong service performance and financial positions.

In response to the ever changing needs of children and families, Capital Area Head Start embraces the future, confident that it will continue to expand and positively impact the communities of central Pennsylvania.