Gazebo Gazette

Nita Norphlet-Thompson, Executive Director of the Mississippi Head Start Association (MHSA), knows first-hand the impact the census can have on vital funding for Mississippians. Her knowledge and passion have inspired Head Start in Mississippi to help make sure thousands more Mississippians are counted in the 2020 census.

Earlier in Norphlet-Thompson’s career when working as a training and technical assistance specialist with the Chapel Hill Outreach Project (RAP) in Jackson, she listened as then Head Start director, the late Billy J. McCain, shared his experience preparing the Bolivar County Community Action Agency Head Start Federal funding application.

“We listened as McCain told about his conversation with the evaluators, ‘but this is how many children we serve. We see them every day,’” she remembers him saying.

“There are seventeen Head Start / Early Head Start programs throughout Mississippi with 200 centers serving approximately 24,000 children and families,” Norphlet-Thompson said. “All centers, with the exception of those located in schools, are licensed by the state, and all must adhere to over 1500 federal Head Start Program Performance Standards.”

After a recent training by a marketing and outreach team from the Mississippi Complete Count Committee, MHSA took it upon themselves to set a plan into action for Mississippi’s Head Start locations to play a vital role in this year’s Census — reaching out to families with children in Head Start, particularly in areas with the lowest response rates to-date.

“I am happy to report that the plan is working even better than I ever imagined,” says Norphlet-Thompson. “Our Directors and Family Advocates have responded incredibly. We have now assisted in the completion of 8,678 U.S. Census forms, and our goal is to reach 10,000 in the coming weeks!”

Adding to the challenge was that COVID-19 was restricting the ways in which the Family Advocates could stay in touch with families.

“Under normal circumstances, we make home visits, talk with parents when we pick up and drop off children, see families in the centers, and conduct parent-teacher conferences,” Norphlet-Thompson said. “We utilized technology and now maintain contact through phone or video calls, email, and other means to make sure that these children and their families are given the consistent attention and support they need.”

Since consistent contact is a foundational principle for Head Start, encouraging families to complete their 2020 U.S. Census was a logical extension of that work. Norphlet-Thompson emphasized that Head Start always makes efforts to work with campaigns that will improve the quality of care for children and families in our state. Internet connectivity problems are persistent in parts of the state, but where that is a problem, they used the phone more frequently.

“Right now, most of our daily education is virtual. Teachers send resource packs with activities. They call parents themselves and have conversations about their child’s progress, making sure that they’re always working on their set goals and mastering new skills,” she said.

“There is a direct connection between the census and resources for your family, your community, and your state. I don’t think a lot of people connect the two,” she said.

As a call to action, Norphlet-Thompson added, “We are also asking our families to in-turn encourage everyone in their immediate circles – family, friends, neighbors to complete the census. Let them know that YOU completed your 2020 U.S. Census.”

In 2010, Mississippi ranked last among all states in census omission rates. An estimated 265,000 Mississippians were not counted. This represents about $13.2 billion in funding that Mississippi did not get. But the state is outpacing its 2010 response rate.

The Mississippi Census Complete Count Committee has developed a comprehensive website at mscensus2020.org that contains valuable information, resources, and a blue button right on the home page to complete the census online. The site also has a page to view current response rates.

Data can be viewed by state, county and city. If you have an idea on how you or your organization can help, email the Mississippi Census info@mscensus2020.org or call 601-345-1420. To see current response rates and learn more about Mississippi’s efforts in the 2020 census, visit https://mscensus2020.org/