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Department of Defense Education Activity Sure Start Program


Sure Start is a Department of Defense Education Activity program for command-sponsored children stationed at overseas installations. Based on the Head Start model of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sure Start assists qualified preschool-age military children by providing education, health and nutrition, social and parent-involvement services based on income and need guidelines. The services provided by Sure Start involve the children and their families, schools and communities to ensure a comprehensive, coordinated approach to early childhood education. Sure Start is dedicated to providing participating children with a sure start in school and life.

Eligibility requirements for Sure Start

Because the program is expensive to replicate, Sure Start is reserved for those children and families who will most benefit from participation in the program. The program is primarily for qualified children who turn four years old by September 1 of the current school year. Children qualify for Sure Start based on family dynamics, which may put the child at risk. The DoDEA identifies the following family dynamics as possible qualifiers for children for Sure Start:

  • Rank of sponsor (Sponsors with ranks of E-1 to E-4 and civilian rank equivalents have first priority for the program.)
  • Single parent household
  • Parent(s) not a high-school graduate
  • Parent a teenager when first child was born
  • One or both parents speaking a language other than English as their primary language
  • Low birth weight
  • Parent on remote assignment or temporary duty for three months or longer
  • Four or more children close in age and living in the home
  • Child with a severely disabled older sibling

Similarities and differences between Sure Start and Head Start

Sure Start incorporates the many features of Head Start that correlate with high quality, which include the following:

  • Four-tiered delivery system. Separate component plans for each of the four-tiers - education, health and nutrition, social services and mandatory parent/sponsor involvement - outline the provided services and timelines for delivery.
  • Medical, dental and developmental screenings for all enrolled children. If medical, dental or developmental problems are identified through Sure Start, immediate follow-up assessments and services are provided.
  • Nutritious lunches and snacks. Nutritious lunches and snacks based on children's individual and cultural preferences, as well as food-related health concerns, are provided at no cost to students.
  • Active involvement by family. Sure Start requires active involvement by families of all children through mandatory participation in classroom activities, parent education meetings and home visits.
  • Developmentally appropriate practice at the core of all programming. Through thoughtful and intentional planning, Sure Start ensures the environment, curriculum, materials, routines and activities are appropriate to the children's ages, individual needs and cultures.

To make the program fit into the DoDEA culture and regulations, Sure Start has evolved into a program with a distinct personality. Specifically, Sure Start differs from Head Start in the following ways:

  • DoDEA oversight of the program. Oversight for individual Sure Start programs is within DoDEA, rather than with the local program. Although parents may recommend changes, they do not have governing power in the same sense that individual Head Start Parent Policy Councils do. All Sure Start programs follow DoD regulations.
  • Different criteria for eligibility. Head Start uses income as the sole defining criterion for eligibility. Sure Start regards the sponsor's rank as the first priority, but not the sole factor, considered in enrollment.
  • No minimum requirement for children with disabilities. Head Start mandates that a programs reserve a minimum of 10 percent of classroom slots for children with disabilities. Sure Start does not use disability status as an eligibility criterion. When screening reveals a child in the program has special needs, Sure Start staff work with the DoDEA special education staff to determine the best possible environment, placement and services for the child.
  • Mandatory parent involvement in Sure Start. Parents are informed before registration that a commitment of involvement is a precondition for enrollment. Cooperation and participation in home visits is also an entry requirement. Parent involvement is integral to the program's philosophy and operations.
  • Required staff-to-child ratios in Sure Start. Although Head Start leaves the determination of staff-child ratios to state and local licensing boards, Sure Start specifies a ratio of two adults to 18 to 20 students. Although parent volunteers lower the adult-to-child ratio, their presence does not affect official ratios.
  • The DoDEA Pre-K Foundational Standards-based Curriculum. Although Head Start programs make curriculum adoption decisions at the local level, all Sure Start programs use the same curriculum, based on current research about how children grow and learn and is consistent with Sure Start Program Standards and the DoDEA Content Standards for Pre-K.
  • Consistent program model. Whereas Head Start operates a variety of program models, all Sure Start programs operate on a full-day schedule, typically six hours.

For more information on the Sure Start Program and the eligibility requirements, visit DoDEA's Early Childhood Education - Sure Start.


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