Celebrating Head Start Awareness Month: An Interview with Cynthia Cummings

October is Head Start Awareness Month! Head Start is a free, federally-funded program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to children and families facing socioeconomic challenges. To celebrate the month, we spoke with Cynthia Cummings, a longtime leader in the Head Start community.

Cynthia Cummings has served as the Executive Director of Community Parents, Inc. for nearly three decades and joined Pajama Program’s Good Night Advisory Council in 2020. Community Parents, Inc. serves 270 Head Start families in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. Though she was traveling in Colorado for a conference, Cynthia made time in her busy schedule last week to chat with us about her path to Head Start, her passion for children, and her experience with Pajama Program.

*This interview has been edited and condensed.

What is your personal connection to Head Start? How did you get involved?

My first Head Start experience was as a teacher back in the 70s. I worked at a Mount Morris Head Start program in Harlem and then later had my own children attend the program. So, I had both the perspective of a staff member and then the experience as a parent in the program. After my children graduated from Head Start, I was asked to join the Board of Directors for Community Parents, Inc. 

The Executive Director before me was getting ready to retire and felt that the position was really ideal for me, which surprised me because I had actually gone into another field altogether–the health care industry. He really wanted to make sure that the program sustained itself, and he passed the torch to me. So I then resigned from the board and became the Executive Director in 1991.

What drives your commitment to the Head Start program? 

My work is my passion. It’s always important to focus on the future, and the future’s always the children who come after us. It’s so critical for us to be intentional and impactful in children’s life experiences so they too will have the best opportunities afforded to them. 

Tell us why sleep health education is important in the Head Start setting, and about your staff’s experience using the Sweet Dreamzzz®  for Early Childhood Program.

Sleep has such an impact on children’s ability to learn. Twenty years ago, sleep wasn’t really identified as a key factor in children’s development—the focus was on nutrition and exercise. Sleep was an unexplored area that was important to investigate. This program helped us understand how critical yet simple it was to share basic information about healthy sleep with families and assist them with setting up routines and protocols they could easily implement in their daily childrearing practices. It also helped us support healthy sleep lessons for children in the classroom. It’s been such a great way to effectively improve children’s sleeping habits.  

It’s so critical for us to be intentional and impactful in children’s life experiences so they too will have the best opportunities afforded to them.

-Cynthia Cummings

What do you like most about the Sweet Dreamzzz®  for Early Childhood program?  

It’s hard to pick one thing because I like everything about it!  The curriculum keeps children and families engaged and helps parents realize that children function better and learn new skills when they have proper sleep.  I think right now, the ability to reach families virtually is key, because this Zoom world that we’re in is not going away. The ability to do the curriculum virtually with the new Flipchart teaching tool has been one of the best additions to the program. Once you’re trained on the Flipchart with the curriculum, you can administer the program at any time with small groups, large groups, or one-on-one!  

Tell us about your experience serving on Pajama Program’s Good Night Advisory Council. 

I was so honored to have been asked to be part of the advisory council with such an esteemed group of professionals. Most of my fellow Council members are doctors and researchers, so I very much enjoy being part of this group and giving my perspective on the impact Pajama Program policies and programming can have on children and families. I see how valuable it is to contribute in this way. I find my input and suggestions made are taken very seriously and appreciated. It’s an honor to be part of the discussion.

Help us support good nights for good days for all children, everywhere.