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 1,144 children and families. Ninety-one 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, 96% of children in Head Start and Early Head Start have been connected with a medical home and 98% of children in Head Start have received a dental home. Ninety-three percent of Head Start and Early Head Start children are up to date with immunizations.

Federal legislation requires that all Head Start programs receive a comprehensive on-site review. CAHS’s most recent review was conducted in April 2018. No areas of non-compliance were found. In addition, there were no findings or material weaknesses as a result of the last financial audit dated June 30, 2018.

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

We recently researched and compiled the data for our 2020-2025 Community Assessment. The new assessment will be completed for submission with our 2020-2025 Federal Grant Application in April 2020.

View the 2018-2019 Community Assessment (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 school readiness, nutrition, transitioning to school, budgeting, parenting, children’s health and development, and other topics requested by parents.

Every enrolled Parent Engagement family has the opportunity to access ReadyRosie, a research-based family engagement and early learning resource that provides a comprehensive family curriculum based on well-established theories and research. Along with research-based workshops for parents, families have access to short, modeled moments videos which demonstrate enjoyable, easy activities families can do in their daily routine to strengthen bonds and build learning and skills to get children ready for school.

PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

In the last five years, the number of reports of unsafe behaviors appeared to increase noticeably. 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, transiency, 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:

  • All staff received training on trauma-informed care and resiliency.
  • 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 rolled 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.
  • Friendship Groups continue to be rolled out program-wide for further social-emotional support. Each Friendship Group consists of four children who meet for 30 minutes weekly. Consideration for selection is given to:
    • 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

Educational outcomes in 2018-2019 for children ages 3-5 show growth in all domains, with the greatest progress in physical development and health. Significant growth also occurred in the areas of building relationships with other children, community, book enjoyment and knowledge and understanding and speaking English. Continued emphasis on reading and writing is also evident, as well as areas of social-emotional development, particularly conflict resolution and building relationships.

Early Head Start children showed the most progress in many of the same areas, developing knowledge of self and others, as well as building relationships with adults.

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.

View the Head Start 2018-2019 Educational Outcomes Summary and Recommendations (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. 

In August 2018, parents began receiving support in fostering school readiness skills at home through ReadyRosie, a research-based parenting curriculum.

View the school readiness goals for 2018-2019 (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. 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.
  • Capital Area Head Start continues to focus on the health and wellness of children, families, and staff. We have started new partnerships with the Pennsylvania Department of Health Nurse Outreach Program, AmeriHealth, and Gateway Health, with a focus on health trainings such as oral health, healthy hygiene, and the importance preventative medical care for children and families. In addition, members of these community programs will serve on the Health Services Advisory Committee, which directly supports the UCLA Health Care Institute that CAHS is a part of. The institute is based on a comprehensive approach to health promotion. We partnered with Pinnacle Health on their Eat Smart, Play Smart program, which was an eight-week wellness program working with our preschoolers and teachers to promote fitness and nutrition. Lessons included activities and snacks that taught children how to make healthy choices.
  • Shippensburg University, in collaboration with Harrisburg Area Community College, was awarded one of the three Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants in Pennsylvania. The grant provides funds to develop programs designed to strengthen early childhood education. Shippensburg is using the grant to develop a Center for Early Childhood Education that will reach out into the community. Capital Area Head Start is one of three early childhood partners. This grant allowed staff who were interested in working toward an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s in early childhood education the opportunity to earn 9-12 college credits for free. The grant is a partnership between the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning and Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education.

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 2018-2019 are (on a scale of 1-7), 6.37 in emotional support, 5.87 in classroom organization, and 3.98 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.

  • During the 2018-2019 school year, CAHS participated on teams with three 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.

Mission-Related Achievements

  • Two teams of Federal reviewers spent a week monitoring our program. We are happy to say that their report indicated that CAHS was in compliance in all areas! While on site, the teams used the CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring System) tool to evaluate 37 classrooms. The Focus Area 2 team went out to 20 classrooms as well. They evaluated all of our operational systems, including eligibility, qualification, and background check records. They interviewed staff, parents, the Board, and Policy Council members and conducted data tours of all of our systems.
  • Capital Area Head Start was a successful recipient of funds from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Head Start to move 192 children in 12 classes to a six-hour class day from Monday-Friday during the school year. We implemented the new class schedule. As background, the Office of Head Start released new Head Start Performance Standards in 2016. This was the first completed overhaul since 1975. Perhaps the biggest change was the increase in minimum program hours. This new requirement more than doubled the amount of time that Head Start children spend in the classroom, increasing their opportunities for high-quality interactions with their teachers and peers. Research indicates that programs with longer days and years are associated with greater gains in cognitive skills. These new requirements are based on research and evidence that shows that students who spend more time in high-quality early learning programs learn more and are better prepared for kindergarten. In addition, CAHS received funds from the State for the Head Start Supplemental and Assistance Program, which were used to increase classroom duration.
  • Capital Area Head Start was one of 30 programs selected nationally to participate in the UCLA/Johnson and Johnson Building Healthy Communities Program. Staff attended with a community partner from a local behavioral health agency. We focused on a project to implement when we returned, which will improve the health and wellness of our staff.
  • 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 63 preschoolers are receiving individualized case management for behavioral concerns, that number is half of what it was last year at this time.
  • Through classes held with incarcerated fathers last year at Dauphin County Prison, eight men stayed in touch with their children through journals during their incarceration.

Training and Cross Collaboration

  • We implemented the first transitional classroom model at our Martin Luther King Head Start Center. Children attended two days a week for a shorter class day as they learned to follow routines and engage with PEERs. The goal is for children to transition back to the regular classroom with these skills in place.
  • CAHS collaborated with Penn State Harrisburg, Shippensburg University, and Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) to place early education students with our program for field experience. Eighteen Penn State students,  12 students from Shippensburg, and many HACC students gained early childhood education experience and observed teacher practices in CAHS classrooms. Additionally, 10 occupational therapy graduate students from Messiah College completed their fieldwork experience in several CAHS classrooms, gaining knowledge of early childhood issues and environments.
  • CAHS partners with HACC Dental Hygiene Program on a monthly basis.
  • CAHS participated in the American Literacy Corporation’s first 100 Women Reading event in November. Twelve women leaders from the community signed up to read in our Head Start classrooms.

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 2018-2019 Fiscal Year

Approved Budget for 2018-2019 Fiscal Year

Proposed Budget for 2018-2019 Fiscal Year including COLA
Capital Area Intermediate Unit $242,794
Health and Human Services
Head Start $5,939,648
Early Head Start $1,512,528
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program $2,277,946
Pre K Counts $3,604,000
OCDEL Home visitation
MIECHV $449,056
Other $37,224
USDA $320,090
Head Start Duration Start Up $22,238
Total Received $14,405,524


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. 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.

Capital Area Head Start continues to help families navigate challenges and barriers related to accessing appropriate supports for children with challenging behaviors. Waiting lists at provider agencies often create a situation where a child’s safe participation is delayed until needed supports are in place and successful.

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.