Growing out of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, the federal government established Head Start to provide comprehensive educational and social support for young children from low-income families across the country. Bank Street faculty members, led by President John H. Niemeyer, played an integral role in the formation of the national Head Start program. Head Start’s first concept paper—by the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity—pointed to Bank Street classrooms as models for Head Start settings.
From 1968 to 1981, following the success of Head Start's service at the prekindergarten level, Bank Street was a prime sponsor and designer of Project Follow Through, a federal program to provide educational support services for Kindergarten and early elementary school children and their families in economically disadvantaged areas.
Bank Street led the 42nd Street Early Childhood Model Head Start Training Center in the 1960s and 70s, and revived its Head Start programs in the 1990s. Today, Bank Street's own Head Start program serves 68 families each year in New York’s East Village.