“The face of Head Start here has changed, but not the earnest desire of these families to see their children do the best they can,” said Melinda Langford, the Arlington Head Start director for Northern Virginia Family Service, a private nonprofit agency that serves 2,400 children younger than 11.
At Langford’s program, six in 10 preschoolers have parents who were born in another country. Colorful drawings line the halls and classroom walls, signed with names such as Francisco, Dayana, Khadija, Ureal, Lavand, Betel, Estefany, Brittany and Seid.
Program officials describe their mission as an affirmation of diversity as well as an educational boost for struggling kids. Sometimes they face cultural challenges, such as parents accustomed to disciplining their children more harshly than U.S. laws allow. To help with communication, Head Start employs class assistants and family advocates who are native speakers of a wide range of languages.
Cherlin said the immigrant baby boom will eventually taper off. Studies suggest that the children and grandchildren of the newest immigrants will have birthrates much closer to those of non-Hispanic whites.