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-four 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, 100% of children in Head Start received medical exams and 93.1% of children in Head Start and 69.4% of children in Early Head Start received dental exams, an important part of every child’s health and well-being. One hundred percent of Head Start and 79.9% of 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, 2016.

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 2016-2017 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.

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 PBIS and trauma.
  • Bucket filling is practiced program-wide with children, families, and staff.
  • Each center completes Take 5 activities, where we ask parents to "take 5" minutes to explore a social-emotional concept in the classroom and has a parent meeting focused on PBIS.
  • We continue to implement 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 continue to bestow the Silver Bucket Award, which is given to staff who best exemplify the PBIS motto. The Silver Bucket Award will be given out again this program year.
  • We are rolling out a new model of Tier 3 intensive support entitled Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children (PTR-YC). This model is specifically for preschool settings for individualized intervention with challenging behavior. It consists of detailed steps for designing and implementing positive interventions. These steps include (1) Team and Goal Setting, (2) Practical Data Collection, (3) Functional Behavioral Assessment, (4) Intervention, and (5) Follow-up and Next Steps.
    • Referred children that staff feel have the most needs or would benefit from the group
    • Children who have demonstrated a need for more targeted social-emotional teaching through their disruptive and/or aggressive behavior, as seen through behavior reports and positive guidance steps.

Educational Outcomes

Teachers and home visitors 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. CAHS uses the Child Observation Record (COR), a research-based assessment aligned with our HighScope curriculum, which is used in all preschool center and home based settings and is cross-walked with the Partners for a Healthy Baby curriculum used in Early Head Start. 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 2016-17 for children ages 0-5 showed growth in all domains, with the highest rates of growth shown in Natural and Physical World (science domain), Music, and Emotions. For both Head Start and Early Head Start, Fine Motor Skills was also an area of strength. Early Head Start children showed good progress in early math and science skills, including Measurement and Tools and Technology.

Social Emotional Development continues to be a focus for CAHS, with emphasis needed on skills related to conflict resolution and reflection.

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 2016-2017 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. In addition, CAHS practices Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), also used by many of our cooperating school districts. Children become familiar with the language of PBIS in preschool and are then better able to transition to kindergarten where strategies they are familiar with are used.

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. CAHS staff also 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 40 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 continue our community partnership with the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank, a small nonprofit organization that partners with agencies working with families in need. On an ongoing basis, the Diaper Bank provided necessary supplies to 60 different CAHS families who were struggling to provide diapers for their children.
  • 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 2016-2017 are (on a scale of 1-7), 6.33 in emotional support, 5.86 in classroom organization, and 4.00 in instructional support, surpassing the national benchmarks of 4, 3, and 2 respectively. 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.

    Our program goal is for 90% of our classrooms to score a 6 or higher in the Classroom Organization domain, which ties directly to the work we are doing with PBIS. The Classroom Organization domain measures the indicators: Behavior Management, Productivity, and Instructional Learning Formats. Right now, 53% of classrooms have met that goal.

    If the scores of this domain are high, it demonstrates that staff who are proactive in their approach to behavior management run a consistent class day with plenty of activities for children to engage in, and who structure the daily routine and activities to meet individual children's needs have less disruptions due to behavior and fewer incidents of unsafe behavior.

  • CAHS achieved an exemplary score in the MIECHV (Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visitation) Program Review Instrument. This is a comprehensive evaluation that occurs on an annual basis by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL)
  • During the 2016-2017 school year, CAHS participated on teams with two local school districts to do joint planning around engaging with parents earlier, prior to their child's entry into kindergarten. Plans were initiated for parent education events and training for local early care providers.
  • Jo Pepper was chosen by the National Center of Program Management and Fiscal Operations (PMFO) and the UCLA Anderson School of Management to participate as a mentor for the 2016 PMFO New Directors Mentor Initiative, to be held at UCLA in October. She attended in October 2016.
  • Jo Pepper and former employee Amber Fields (who now works as a Community Impact Manager-Education for the United Way of the Capital Region) visited with legislators to share information on CAHS and the importance of early childhood education.

Mission Related Achievements

  • 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.
  • Coordinators and center directors meet every other month to provide case management for children, families, and individual site needs. Case management is a collaborative process of assessment, planning, facilitation, coordination, observation, and advocacy for options and services to meet a child’s or family’s comprehensive needs through communication and collaboration. Although the current number of preschoolers receiving individualized case management for behavioral concerns is 63, the number is half of what it was last year at this time.

Training and Cross Collaboration

  • We continue to explore ideas for a transitional classroom model, as well as additional ways to strengthen what we currently have in place through PEER (Positive Education to Enhance Readiness) center/home based option. In the PEER classroom, 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.
  • Staff at Lang and Keystone Human Services' Information Systems Department participated in a year-long Science in the Classroom collaboration that was enriching and enjoyable for everyone.
  • CAHS's Head Start Health component has started new partnerships with Pennsylvania Department of Health Nurse Outreach Program, AmeriHealth, and Gateway Health. The collaborative agreements should be finalized by the end of March. The focus is on health trainings such as oral health, healthy hygiene, and the importance of preventative medical care for children and families. In addition, members of these community programs will reside on HSAC committee. This directly supports the UCLA Health Care Institute we are part of; it also works by strengthening the program as a whole with the new implementation of the OHS performance standards.
  • CAHS is partnering with Penn State Harrisburg and HACC's Education Departments to place students for classroom field experiences. Twelve Penn State students started in September and will spend one day each week for nine weeks in our classrooms. Thirteen HACC students have been placed and will start in October.
  • Members of the Harrisburg Region Central Labor Council's Community Service Committee visited our Head Start classroom at HACC on September 29 to read to the class. They also provided literacy bags containing a book and writing, drawing, and craft materials for the children to take home. This is the second year the Committee has chosen HACC as the focus of their community service.

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 2016-2017 Fiscal Year

Approved Budget for 2016-2017 Fiscal Year

Approved Budget for 2016-2017 Fiscal Year
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 combined $449,055
Total Received $12,356,676

Graph of Approved Budget for 2017-2018 Fiscal Year including COLA

Approved Budget for 2017-2018 Fiscal Year including COLA

Approved Budget for 2017-2018 Fiscal Year including COLA
Capital Area Intermediate Unit $223,463
Health and Human Services
Head Start $5,789,161
Early Head Start $1,475,075
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program $2,277,946
Pre K Counts $3,587,000
OCDEL Home visitation: MIECHV $449,056
Total Received $13,801,701


The ability to find stable, high quality, and affordable classroom space in the areas of greatest need in Harrisburg and Steelton has become our most pressing and ongoing challenge. We have been working with school districts, churches, community advocates, and realtors to try and find space, but to no avail. Our waiting list numbers continue to increase, as to various other funding avenues. However, the lack of space makes any expansion increasingly difficult.

Recruitment and retention of qualified early childhood staff has also been a struggle for us, as well as all early childhood programs throughout Pennsylvania. Balancing budgets and implementing unfunded mandates and new initiatives that various funders require also remains an ongoing challenge. 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.