Head Start pioneer to retire after 42 years
For more than 42 years, Lynnette Mitchell has been helping the youth of Eastern Utah begin their journey into formal education. While her own journey began as a volunteer, Mitchell's dedication to early childhood education allowed her to to travel as far away as China, searching always for the best way to serve and enhance the education of those at Head Start. She will retire at the end of this school year, concluding a career that has literally launched thousands of lives.
"My first three years here were as a volunteer, my son was enrolled," said Mitchell, explaining how her relationship with Rural Utah Child Development Head Start began. "I do not have a degree but after those first years, I found that I loved the program and took advantage of every opportunity to be a part of what was going on here. I stuck around, and eventually I worked my way up."
Mitchell, who will retire as the Executive Director at Head Start in Wellington, was introduced to the newly-developed program in 1971 when her youngest child was four years old.
"I think what impressed me about Head Start was the ability for parents to be involved, but also how fast I saw children learning and gaining the skills they needed to go on and be successful in school," she said.
After volunteering and helping to lead multiple groups, Mitchell became chairman of the parent committee and the policy committee and council before being hired as Health Coordinator in 1974.
"That first job was fun and scary," she said. "I went to Denver on my first day and had to work out the travel, before walking into a meeting with 150 people. That was new for me."
A thirst for knowledge
Mitchell commented that the position really quenched her thirst for knowledge and gave her a great deal to think about. That knowledge was put to good use, as she would become the Head Start organization's director only three months later.
"At Head Start we look at children in a holistic way, we look at their health, their mental health, their dental work. Children in pain cannot learn," she explained. "We help the family develop what they need to, helping them with emergencies, linking them with resources in the community. We provide parenting classes and parents have a large say in the program. I've always said they care most about their children, we need to listen to them."
At Head Start, the school's main objectives are to help children with socialization as well as to prepare them educationally for kindergarten and life, a process Mitchell helped to create. Children are viewed individually and given individual goals, a process that allows kids to learn at their own pace.
"I have seen major changes over the course of my career," she said looking back. "The early head start grant we got ten years ago that allowed us take children from ages 0 to 3. And then about three years ago, we got a directive change and started preparing kids more directly for school."
When Mitchell began with the program, the organization served 120 kids, mostly in the Carbon and Emery County area. Currently, Head Start served 434 children and their families in 9 counties including; Uintah, Duchesne, Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan, Sevier, Piute and Wayne.
"She is truly an amazing example for all women and men who want to better their lives," said Head Start co-worker Carla Jones. "She has given her heart and soul to families over the years and has enhanced our communities through the immeasurable growth of those families who reside within them. Because of her, they are stronger than they ever knew possible and are vibrant, involved productive members of society."
While Mitchell had a difficult time picking a favorite memory from the ocean of the last 42 years, she did speak to a couple of her career's greatest joys.
"One of the highlights of my job has been working with the Navajo people," she said, her face immediately alight with love. "I have met so many wonderful people, parents, staff and community. Their culture is truly a beautiful culture."
The program is largely for low income families but does take children with special needs and has had a presence with the Navajo the whole time Mitchell has been a Head Start.