In 1960, a group of families from diverse ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds came together because they shared a common purpose: the creation of a free, integrated preschool for their children in their upper Manhattan community. Their vision and commitment provided the foundation for what became known as “The Bloomingdale Family Program.”
For the first five years, Bloomingdale’s parent volunteers — assisted by workers from the Parks Department and the Health Department — operated a free preschool for 70 children in space provided by the Children’s Aid Society, and ran large summer programs for children of all ages in Riverside and Central Parks. Families came from Manhattan Valley’s deteriorated tenements, from the apartment buildings on West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, and from the massive public housing project east of Amsterdam Avenue. Monthly fundraising events —bake sales, craft fairs, potlucks and rummage sales — provided funds for materials and school supplies. Mothers and fathers from very different ethnic and economic backgrounds became involved in their children’s learning as they worked together to keep the program going.
In 1965, the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Advancement of Education awarded Bloomingdale a grant for a three-year demonstration project “to develop, study, and document new ways of involving parents in the education of their children and in the life of the community.” At that same time, steps were being taken in Washington to design a new program called Head Start. The Bloomingdale experiment was adopted as a model for the new Federal program. What caught the attention of the Washington planners was the involvement of Bloomingdale parents in their children’s daily classroom life. They saw how working together in the program strengthened parenting skills and encouraged parents’ growth toward self-sufficiency and community involvement.
Bloomingdale began sponsoring summer Head Start programs in 1965, and has operated a year-round Head Start program since 1969. We continue to serve as a demonstration program, modeling what Head Start — at its best — can offer children and their parents. Visitors from the U.S. and abroad come to observe our programs, and we help them replicate essential features that have contributed to our success.
Bloomingdale has continued to expand its scope and facilities over the years. Bloomingdale today has a particular focus on children whose lives in poverty have affected them emotionally, socially and academically. These children comprise nearly on half of our population. Foundation and private funding enable us to give them the extra support they need to enter the public schools and move ahead as successful learners.
The program enjoys a national and international reputation for excellence.