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More than 20 years ago, Ghazwa Chaar Sankari enrolled her children in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Head Start program. Today, she still sees the benefits in her and her children’s lives.

The Head Start program works with low-income families to help prepare preschoolers for kindergarten. However, Kelly Butzlaff, the director of family and community partnerships for Head Start, said the program’s focus extends beyond children.

“That’s the beauty of the Head Start program,” Butzlaff said. “We work with parents on the goals they choose. They choose what they want to get out of the program.”

Sankari, a native of Lebanon, wanted to earn a college degree and, therefore, needed to learn English. Head Start connected her with the Winnebago County Literacy Council, and she was able to take ESL classes while her children attended Head Start programs.

“What I liked most was the family connection — the support the family gets,” Sankari said.

Head Start staff make home visit to welcome families to the program and to answer questions. Parents also have the opportunity to volunteer.

Sankari said the program helped her children to make friends and taught them important lessons early on.

“As they were going to school, they saw Mom going to school, and they really saw the importance of getting an education and being involved,” she said. “Head Start plants the seed that education is important.”

Sankari’s children have applied those early lessons to their lives: Her youngest daughter is freshman at UW Oshkosh and has earned a 4.0 grade-point average, her oldest daughter graduated from UW Oshkosh in 2006 and went on to Portland State for graduate school, and her son graduated from UW-Madison with a dual major in just three years.

Meanwhile, Sankari herself is a current student at UW Oshkosh, working toward a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in hopes of pursuing a career as a bilingual educator. She also works as the education and disability manager for Head Start, helping to train and supervise teachers and screen children who may need extra help.

The Head Start program, which has been a part of UW Oshkosh for 43 years, works closely with the College of Education and Human Services, giving college students a chance to gain hands-on experience.

“The relationship with the University is a win-win because some of the students in Head Start later enroll at UW Oshkosh,” Butzlaff said.

The Head Start program has served more than 600 children and their families. For more information, visit

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