Director Shriver, Dr. Richmond, ladies and gentlemen:
First of all, I want to thank you, Mr. Shriver, for all the good that you are doing in this country and throughout the world in providing humanity some of the most dynamic and intelligent leadership that we have ever seen in this country.
I want to thank Dr. Richmond for his great contribution to our efforts in Head Start, and to every person that has come here this morning to attend this ceremony.
This summer some hope entered the lives of more than 500,000 youngsters, and those half million youngsters needed that hope the most.
Before this summer, they were on the road to despair. They were on the road to that wasteland of ignorance in which the children of the poor grow up and become the parents of the poor.
But today, after the first trial of Project Head Start, these children are now ready to take their places beside their more fortunate classmates in regular school.
Nearly 560,000 preschoolers attended 13,400 Head Start centers in 2,500 American communities. In each of those communities this program generated a new and a neighborly spirit. Nearly a million parents of Head Start children participated. Half a million volunteers 100,000 teachers and doctors and dentists and neighborhood workers joined hands in preparing these children for school--and for life.
Through Head Start, children who had never spoken learned to talk. Parents who were suspicious of school authorities came to see the centers--and they stayed on to help the teachers. Volunteers gave millions of hours to children and proved to these children that somebody, after all, really cared. Teachers tried new approaches and they learned new techniques.
All the workers lived--lived time and again--through an infinitely rewarding moment: seeing a child open his eyes and his mind to the wonders of this world in which we live, seeing a child who had never seen a book, a child who had never held a pencil, a child who had never tasted a banana or one who had never even heard a fairy tale.
In New York City, where the Spanish speaking population is hemmed in by the language barrier, 95 percent of the Head Start children learned enough English to fit them for school.
In San Saba, Texas, Head Start reached beyond the children to touch their homes, and two-thirds of the parents of Head Starters attended classes designed to make them better parents and better homemakers.
In Staten Island, New York, a 16-year-old girl made a tiny Head Starter her very special project. This little gift would not talk, would not eat, would not react. But through the care and through the patience of just one volunteer, the child made such progress that now she is able to take her place in school. Without Head Start that child might well have been classified as mentally defective-and condemned to life in a dark and a very narrow world.
Project Head Start was concerned with the physical health of the child as well as with his mental growth. And through medical checks of 1,055 Head Start children in Jacksonville, Florida, the volunteers discovered that 52 percent of the children were anemic, 42 percent needed dental care, 31 percent had hearing defects, 25 percent had eye trouble, and 5 percent were partially blind.
Volunteers for Vision, an auxiliary of the American Optometry Association, examined the eyes of nearly 50,000 children. I know quite well the success of this group, because its chairman is a very special friend of mine-a young lady whom I left asleep on her bed this morning when I got up, Luci Baines Johnson.
These are only a very few of the many victories, though, that Head Start has finally won.
Project Head Start, which began as an experiment, is now battle tested and it has been proven worthy.
And I am very happy to announce today that I have instructed Sargent Shriver and Frank Keppel to carry out plans for extending Head Start, with the hope of making it a continuing part of the American educational system.
This fall, a three-part extension of the program will be launched.
First, year-round centers for 3-year-olds and up. We expect to enroll 350,000 needy children in the first session, and many more within the next 5 years.
Second, summer programs for those not included in the year-round classes. These programs could involve over 500,000 children next summer.
Third, follow-through programs for children limited to summer sessions. These will begin with this year's Head Starters: There will be special classes; there will be home visits; there will be field trips; and other ways of sustaining the head start that these children have made.
And so today, we have reached a landmark--not just in education, but in the maturity of our own democracy. The success of this year's program--and our plans for years to come--are symbols of this Nation's commitment to the goal that no American child shall be condemned to failure by the accident of his birth.
So, on behalf of a very grateful Nation, I welcome you here this morning, under the leadership of a man whom I trust a great deal, and of whom I am very fond, and to whom all the Nation and, yes, the world is indeed indebted to his leadership--Sargent Shriver.
I congratulate each of you, too, and I offer to him and to Dr. Richmond, and to each of you, my thanks and my very deep appreciation for what you have done for human beings.
Besides all you are doing for the Head Starters, you bring me some good news from the Hill. While I was talking, the Senate Labor Committee unanimously reported the higher education bill. So, if you'll start them right, we'll finish them right.