Our American Dream: From 1st grade teacher to Head Start director and leader

When Dr. Blanca Enriquez started working at a Head Start office in El Paso, Texas, the federal program was undergoing steep challenges and even faced the risk of being defunded if another agency didn’t step in.

“In 28 years, I not only grew and created a successful organization, but the program became a national model for an early childhood care and education program,” she told Fox News Latino.

Enriquez, a widow with three children and seven grandchildren, started as a bilingual first grade teacher and slowly made her way up to become the Office of Head Start’s director last year – coincidentally the year the program marked its 50th anniversary.

Head Start, which is under the umbrella of Department of Health and Human Services, aims to provide comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families across the U.S.

"Dr. Enriquez will be leading one of our nation's most essential early care and education programs and one in which she has been deeply involved with for almost 28 of those years,” said Linda K. Smith, an official with the Administration for Children and Families, after DHH announced the appointment last year.

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“I am confident she will prove to be an inspirational leader for children and families," she added.

Enriquez said her promotion came after she was asked to write a grant request to help out save the program. In doing so, she said, she became deeply knowledgeable about its services and eventually succeeded in getting the grant. Then she was offered the director position.

“When you work in Head Start you really are working with the whole child, where you are looking at their physical development, their mental development, their social and emotional development, as well as their learning. And we reach out to parents, we bring in the parents and they work with our staff,” she told FNL.

“My passion has been to make a difference in the lives of children, in the lives of families, and to get families on their road to prosperity,” she added.

The impact Enriquez has made on the lives of children is evident in how far she’s gone. From bilingual first grade teacher to head of a federal program, Enriquez is somewhat of a rock star in her hometown of El Paso.

She is especially fond of the following anecdote:

“I was at the at the El Paso Airport leaving for a business trip. A lady and her daughter came up to me and the lady said, ‘Look Mrs. Enriquez, this one is yours (she pointed to the young girl, about 17 years old and with a guitar hanging on her back). She is totally yours, she went to Head Start and this is what your great program did for her.’ I turned to the young girl and said, ‘Hola mi hija. Are you going on a vacation?’ The teenager replied, ‘No, I’m going to Berkley, second year, school of music.’ At that moment, I could have cried for joy,” Enriquez recalled. “This was the product of all my work,” she said.

And throughout her many years of success, her family has been by her side.

“When the opportunity to come to Washington DC was offered, I asked my family for permission. I have their support and they have mine,” she said.

“I like to say that in El Paso we worked for 4,000 young children and in Washington DC we work for one million young children,” she added proudly.