This week, we lost a pioneer in early childhood education, Dr. Edward F. Zigler. Dr. Zigler, who founded Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, was a strong advocate for children and believed that even the poorest child deserved the best start. Head Start, the small summer program he helped plan, now serves over a million children and families with low incomes every year around the country!
As I grow older and become more established in my career, I have noticed that the early childhood icons that I studied and admired are passing away. Dr. Zigler’s passing hits hard and close to home for me. You see, I have a lot of love for the Head Start program. My doctorate being in Applied Developmental Psychology, I spent many days as a young researcher in Head Start programs collecting data for national studies like the Head Start Transition Study and the Head Start Impact Study.
I’m also a former Head Start Fellow with the national office. There were 10 of us selected from around the country to be a part of this exclusive program. It was an amazing experience to see policy in the making. That year, I learned so much about Dr. Zigler. He not only was the architect of Head Start, he also created the first Office of Child Care (OCC), was instrumental in writing legislation that would have ensured every family had affordable child care, and conceptualized the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Growing up in poverty to immigrant parents, he became a champion for children and believed in comprehensive programs that supported the family and its larger community.
Meeting and Saying Farewell to a Legend
A few years after my fellowship ended, I actually had the chance to meet Dr. Zigler. I stood in a long line to meet him. Of course, he knew nothing about me and my love for his work, but he told me to “Keep working on behalf of our kids!” and gave me a strong handshake. From the outside looking in, I probably looked like I was meeting my favorite Hollywood actor! This opportunity to meet him was certainly something I have carried with me throughout my career. His more than 800 papers and books that advocate for the “whole child” is something myself and others in the child care space will continue to refer to in our own work.
Though he will be missed, I hope he knew how many people he inspired. Rest in peace Dr. Zigler!