Head Start Program in Wisconsin Bridges Gap Between Staff and Parents

A Vision to Help All Children Succeed

Since 1966, CAP Services has been a champion for the advancement of social and economic justice. The private, nonprofit corporation offers innovative programs, from business coaching to community engagement, for low-income families in five counties across Wisconsin.

Operated under the umbrella of Head Start, the Early Childhood Development Program is just one of over 20 of the services they offer. The team is passionate about removing barriers that may prevent infants and toddlers from succeeding as they grow, learn, and engage.

CAP Services is now able to achieve that vision even more thanks to a three-year technical assistance grant from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). The State of Wisconsin was awarded the grant in 2009, and in 2011 they selected CAP as a demonstration site.

One Team, a Shared Passion

The grant funded the implementation of the Pyramid Model, a tiered approach for the enhancement of social and emotional development in children birth to age five.

The Model follows a bottom-up support plan. The first level is the foundation for creating systems and policies to ensure sustainability while the second tier promotes nurturing and responsive environments for young children. The third and fourth tiers represent prevention and intervention, respectively.

“The Pyramid Model aligned with our philosophy of working with the strengths of children and their families,” says Shannon Piotrowski, Special Services Manager of CAP, “It was also age appropriate, so when we heard of the opportunity to be a pilot program, we applied.”

The Pyramid Model works in three main components: State Systems Building, Program Systems Building, and Personal Training. CAP received training and technical assistance to implement the approach and serve as an example for other programs in the state to follow.

Piotrowski knew the Pyramid Model’s program-wide implementation approach would have the greatest impact in addressing a growing problem, “Our teachers always identified that working with children with challenging behaviors was their top concern in the classroom.”

In order to be systematically implemented across the program, the Pyramid Model required key elements, including a leadership team which would guide the implementation process and develop the infrastructure. The team comprised a program administrator, a representative from the teaching staff, a coach who would support teachers, and a behavior specialist.  

Their roles included responsibilities, such as:

  • The leadership attended training to develop an implementation plan
  • The appointed coach learned how to support staff
  • Staff trained on the Pyramid Model and were coached on how to use the model in classrooms
  • The behavior specialist was trained on how to guide the individualized, intensive intervention process.

“We realized change wouldn’t happen immediately,” says Piotrowski, “But training with the Behavior Specialist helped overcome these obstacles, along with the Special Services Manager and Program Coordinators being persistent in going back and reviewing the basics.”

Joining Hands

To measure the success of the program, CAP uses pre/post surveys, TPOT observations, and CLASS observations. Results show that 100 percent of their teachers have met fidelity in the last five years, and 94 to 96 percent of four-year-olds have transitioned out of Head Start by meeting or exceeding expectations in social-emotional competence.

“The program built a bridge between staff and parents’ responses to child behavior concerns,” adds Piotrowski, “Our staff is more confident in using preventative measures, and they’re more aware of triggers, which gives them more options when working with children with challenging behaviors.”

Staff also feel comfortable talking about social-emotional development with parents and community partners, an initiative that’s highly regarded across all Head Start programs in the country.

CAP Services was the first to complete program-wide implementation in Wisconsin, and while they only received a three-year pilot, they have continued for an additional three years.