As an early education leader, Waymond Hayes is usually the only man in the room.
This is something he notices when he’s leading a meeting, attending education conferences, or meeting with parents.
As he goes into his eighth year as Director of Early Learning and Youth Development at the Detroit-based civil and human rights nonprofit Focus: HOPE, Hayes remains one of the few men in Michigan and only Black man to hold a high-ranking position in early education.
He’s also the first male center administrator to operate a Head Start all-male leadership academy, which consists of an all-boys classroom with male teachers and support staff.
As of 2019, fewer than 3% of preschool and kindergarten teachers were men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the east side resident is hoping to change that by hiring and mentoring men looking to get into the education field.
One of those people is Juan Ruiz, who he met in 2006 when they were site leaders at the Southeast Head Start in Detroit. While enduring the challenges of managing early education sites, Ruiz and Hayes supported each other.
The two would eventually go on to different jobs, but in 2015, Hayes accepted the director job at Focus: HOPE and wanted Ruiz to join him.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll slide’ and I came on board at Focus: HOPE as a site leader,” he said.
Ruiz said Hayes pushed him to get his master’s degree and he now holds three titles at the organization–Project Director for 21st century Youth Development, Head Start Operations Manager and Early Childhood Specialist for the Great Start Readiness Program.
“To be a male Hispanic with their education, it makes me feel more confident to help support other men to come into the field and also be able to help support Waymond and what we’re doing here,” he said.
A full circle moment
Head Start has been a presence for Hayes ever since he was a kid. A federal program, Head Start offers services that support early learning and development, health, and family well-being from the time a child is an infant until they’re five years old.
It began with a knock on the door of his childhood home on the city’s east side. A Head Start staff member was doing door-to-door recruitment and told his mother, Alma Ferrell, about the program. She soon enrolled Hayes at a Head Start program at New Calvary Baptist Church.
Ferrell then decided to pursue a career in Head Start by getting her GED and becoming a Child Development Associate (CDA).
Hayes recalled his early days in the program, setting up and taking down classroom furniture when the church needed the space for services and accompanying his mother on those door-to-door adventures.
“What they used to do was, they would get their kids and have us knocking on the door and walking the street,” he said, laughing. “If somebody was interested, they’ll pull up in a car, get out and talk to them and then have their kids do the work.”
After graduating from Southeastern High School in 1993, Hayes planned to go into the Army. But Ferrell wasn’t having it due to the Gulf War, which had recently ended. So, she gave him an assistant teaching job, which led to Hayes becoming a CDA.
“I was still playing around and she sat me down and said, ‘This would be a perfect opportunity for you as a young man,’” Hayes said. “And so, I grabbed hold to it and started my career off.”
Getting more men in education
One of the initiatives Hayes helped implement early in his career was the Dr. Butler All-Male Leadership Academy, named after then-New Calvary pastor Charles Butler.
Hayes said the vision for the academy came from former influential coworker and family service worker at Southeast Head Start, Darryl Sanford. Hayes and Southeast director Joan Scales brought his dream to fruition in 2000, with 50 students, five teachers, a family service worker and a cook.
In 2017, Hayes carried the program to Focus: HOPE, where there are 16 three and four year olds in the classroom, as well as a teacher, an assistant teacher, and a family service worker.
“We’re really intentional about giving men opportunities and meeting them where they’re at,” he said.
Hayes said boys learn differently from girls and he wants to create an environment where they can be academically competitive. He also wants to make sure they’re on track in other areas as well, such as their health and social development.
“When we came out of COVID, one thing we noticed was that a lot of young men came in behind,” Hayes said. “A lot of them were in diapers, there were social skills they didn’t have, there were a lot of different behavioral issues. So, a lot of kids are coming back into the center with no social skills because they didn’t play with no kids at that time, only their parents.”
To help with those issues, Focus: HOPE is partnering with the social service agency The Children’s Center to offer mental health services for students. They also offer breakfast, lunch and a snack in case kids aren’t getting enough to eat at home.
In addition, Hayes organized Men In Motion, a support group for fathers. He said they supply everything from diapers and car seats to throwing a baby shower.
Overall, the early learning center has 78 employees and 263 children. Hayes said a majority of employees had a connection to Head Start prior to working at Focus:HOPE.
“I say a good 90% of our staff was either from a Head Start program, their kids went to a Head Start program, or they started a Head Start program,” he said.
The future of early education
Early education came back into the spotlight in January, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program during her State of the State address. Hayes believes the overall plan is a good idea, but said it’s not going to be a quick fix to getting more children enrolled in Head Start. The biggest issues, he said, are teacher shortages and low salaries. Hayes said teachers leave the industry to work at places like Target and for Uber because those jobs often pay more.
Luckily, that’s not been as much of an issue at Focus: HOPE. Things are going well, with almost all of the positions in early education filled, he said.
“I mean, the money is there which is great because for years, we had the people and we cried for the funding,” Hayes said. So, now you’re about to get the funding without the people. And even when you do get the people in place, it’s still going to take a while to get to the point of supporting them to get them to where they need to be.
“We’ve got to go back and figure out where we went wrong and try to get the people back and still develop new talent,” he said.