ERSEA Managers Learn about Detroit Head Start

Posted on February 16, 2017

East Lansing, MI (Feb. 8, 2017) – The re-competition for federal funding among Head Start providers in Detroit in 2014 significantly changed the early childhood landscape in that city – resulting in the emergence of a number of new grantees and location of Head Start classrooms.

It became immediately clear that parents wanting to enroll their children in Head Start in Michigan’s largest city would need a tool to find the program best suited for their family’s needs, Nicole de Beaufort told a gathering of ERSEA managers at MHSA’s Networking Meeting last week.

Enter Detroit Head Start, a new brand incorporating 10 agencies and 70 locations totaling 500 Head Start seats across Detroit.  With its signature online portal for enrolling families in Head Start, it quickly offered families an interactive program locator that identifies close-to-home Head Start locations with critical contact and content information.  Found at http://www.detroitheadstart.com/, the site allows families to not only search for their ideal program, but also allows families to make an online request to visit a particular Head Start program and then apply for enrollment with a common form for all programs in the city.

De Beaufort, a strategic communications expert who designed the new brand and portal through her Detroit-based firm, EarlyWorks, said Detroit Head Start “puts a face on Head Start in Detroit”  while providing easily accessible information “all in one place.”  The site includes answers to commonly asked questions, and a variety of engaging profiles of Head Start directors, site leaders, teachers as well as moms, dads and families who participate. Another important outcome: The distinctive brand helps build necessary awareness about Head Start with the broader community, including elected officials, policy-makers, civic leaders and the media.

“We went through a process in the co-design by putting users at the center of enrollment – What tools do you need? How can we accommodate you in your jobs and education? And how can we support that?” de Beaufort said.

To drive people to the site, EarlyWorks built an awareness campaign by advertising on billboards across the city, in print and google ads, as well as earned media. The outreach worked. Nearly 1,000 people applied two years ago, followed up by 850 last year.  Today, Detroit Head Start’s Facebook page has 3,700 followers. With 80 percent of the portal’s users coming from Facebook, the social media platform is key for boosting enrollment.

“It gives us constant contact with the community,” said an ERSEA manager from Detroit, one of 60 ERSEA participants attending MSHA’s meeting on Feb. 8.

“It puts us in many more homes and in the morning we download the registrations from the system the day before. It’s real-time enrollment.”
Kaitlin Ferrick, Director of the Michigan Head Start Collaboration Office, said programs in other counties, namely Clinton, Washtenaw and Ingham, offer versions of a coordinated enrollment approach, too.

MHSA Executive Director Robin J. Bozek said de Beaufort’s presentation was a timely one as Head Start providers are charged with finding ways to improve and boost enrollment among eligible families.  The presentation led to a wide-ranging discussion among ERSEA managers on how programs in other parts of the state are taking to heart new outreach tactics as well as polishing up tried-and-true means for reaching eligible families.

“The participation in this session was terrific, and everyone came away with new approaches for building enrollment,” Bozek said.  “We’re proud to offer this and other ERSEA networking session to help managers in their vital work, particularly now with renewed attention to enrollment resulting from the new Head Start Performance Standards.”

Detroit Head Start was developed at the request of the Southeast Michigan Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, a group of foundations that support early learning in the Detroit area.

MSHA will host a third ERSEA Networking session on May 23 back at the Kellogg Center, on the campus of Michigan State University. Check back with http://michheadstart.org/ for registration information.