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Get Your Child the Right Start With Sure Start

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Sure Start is a research-based preschool program offered by the Department of Defense Education Activity, or DODEA, that serves 4-year-old command-sponsored children in military families stationed at overseas installations. Sure Start offers a comprehensive early childhood education learning program as well as health and social benefits for children. The program provides:

  • Full-day comprehensive preschool education program for eligible dependents implemented using the Sure Start Education Standards
  • Health and nutrition services that include medical, dental and developmental screenings as well as nutritious snacks and lunch at no charge
  • Close cooperation with Social Services and supplemental resources that may be available for Sure Start families within the community
  • Parent-involvement services that provide for two-way communication between parents and teachers and opportunities for parents to participate in their child’s learning experiences, including home visits and school conferences

Sure Start: Is your child eligible?

Sure Start assists qualified preschool-age military children living overseas. To qualify, your child needs to turn 4 years old by Sept. 1 of the enrolling school year and be a command-sponsored dependent.

  • Ranks between E-1 and E-4 or the civilian equivalent (GS-1 to GS-4 and nonappropriated fund, NAF-1 and NAF-2) living and working at military installations overseas have first priority.
  • Any sponsor whose rank is E-5 to E-9, GS-5 to GS-8, or NAF-3 and NAF-4 may apply for the program in the event that space becomes available due to low enrollment. Rank priorities can be found on the Sure Start application available on the DODEA website.

Additional selection criteria for student enrollment may apply:

  • Lives in a single-parent household
  • Had a low birth weight
  • Has an older sibling with severe disabilities
  • Lives in a home with three or more children close in age
  • Has a parent who did not graduate from high school
  • Has a parent who was a teenager when the first child was born
  • Has a parent whose primary language is not English
  • Has a parent who is on a remote assignment or temporary duty for at least three months

What’s the difference between Sure Start and Head Start?

Sure Start is built on the same foundation as Head Start and fits better into the DODEA culture and regulations for families located overseas. Head Start is a domestic federal program operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and not a program of the Defense Department.

Both Sure Start and Head Start:

  • Use a four-tiered delivery system: education, health and nutrition, social services and mandatory parent involvement
  • Run medical, dental and developmental screenings for students and provide follow-up assessments if needed
  • Provide no-cost, nutritious lunches and snacks
  • Encourage family involvement
  • Cater to students’ ages, individual needs and cultures using a learning environment, with developmentally appropriate curriculum, materials, routines and daily activities
  • Follow a full-day preschool program

How is Sure Start different from Head Start?

  • DODEA oversees the Sure Start program outside of the United States. DHHS oversees Head Start within the United States.
  • Sure Start considers a military sponsor’s rank its first priority for enrollment. Head Start uses income to determine eligibility.
  • Sure Start does not use a child’s disability status to determine eligibility. Head Start reserves at least 10% of their slots in each classroom for children with disabilities.
  • Parent involvement in Sure Start is mandatory.
  • Sure Start staffs two adults for every 18 to 20 students. Local or state licensing boards determine Head Start’s staff-to-child ratios.
  • Sure Start staff works with DODEA Student Services staff to determine the best placement and support services for each child.
  • Sure Start programs follow the DODEA’s College and Career Ready Standards including Sure Start Standards and DODEA adopted curriculum.

Is Sure Start the right program for my child?

If you think your preschooler may be a good fit for the Sure Start program, contact your local school liaison, your installation’s elementary school office or your Military and Family Support Center. You can look up installation contact information at MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. You can also visit DODEA’s Early Learning page to see if your child is eligible to apply for Sure Start.

In addition to the Sure Start resources, families with exceptional family members can explore the
Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support and the EFMP & Me online toolkit for additional resources. You’ll find a wealth of information covering your needs, including planning and task checklists. A short information video gets you started.

While your child is getting started on the right foot, Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness and the Defense Department’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy have partnered together to provide comprehensive, on-demand parenting programs to assist you in handling parenting challenges at any age. Learn more about Thrive, the free, online parenting-education program that includes positive parenting practices, parent and child stress management and physical health promotion for parents of children from birth to 18.

The DOD has also partnered with Sesame Street to provide resources specifically designed for military-connected families with Sesame Street for Military Families. Did you know that Elmo’s dad was deployed and serves in the National Guard? And Rosita’s dad is a veteran who returned home in a wheelchair. Seseame Street resources can help with ABCs and 123, and now they include topics for military dependents such as deployment, separation, reunification and more. All topics from Sesame Street in Communities include printable PDFs for use at home, interactive games, videos, storybooks, articles and workshops for parents and families.

This child and youth benefits article sums up, by service branch, a number of options for child care, before- and after-school services and developmental classes. And if you find yourself needing an extra set of hands as you juggle your busy family schedule, check out the Expanded Hourly Child Care Options available on Military OneSource. Solving your child care needs is now at the tips of your fingers.

Military OneSource consultants are available 24/7 to assist military families in order to help them thrive in their military life. Call 800-342-9647, view international calling options or schedule a live chat.

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