Study to evaluate success of parental involvement in early childhood education

February 27, 2009

New classrooms will open this fall in the Houston area with an added element: the parents will be students as well.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $2.6 million, four-year grant to The University of Texas Health Science Center's Children's Learning Institute (CLI) to combine two programs to test whether the approach can better prepare children for kindergarten.

The two research-proven programs are the Texas Early Education Model (TEEM) and Play and Learning Strategies (PALS).

"The challenge is so great for teachers serving economically disadvantaged children. Some students show up for their first day of school and have never held a book," said principal investigator Susan Landry, Ph.D., Albert and Margaret Alkek Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Education and executive director of the Children's Learning Institute at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. "In most cases, teachers have to combine two months worth of material into one month. I think we can bridge the gap with PALS. With PALS, the children will get reinforcement at home."

Any time you involve parents in their child's education, you will see the student excel, said Cynthia Johnson, TEEM coordinator for the Houston community at Neighborhood Centers, Inc.

Two Head Start agencies in Houston will be selected for the grant-funded program. Johnson hopes that Neighborhood Centers will have the opportunity to participate. "I think children have a better chance of succeeding when you get parents involved in the learning process. I am excited about the possibilities," she said.

"This grant will help future generations of economically disadvantaged students excel so that they may be on equal footing with their peers," said Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics and dean of the UT Medical School at Houston. "Through this award, the U.S. Department of Education is recognizing Dr. Landry and her team for the excellent work they do in improving children's learning."

The PALS program, which has been research-proven in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, teaches parents skills for interacting with their children. Coaches use PALS to work with parents on how to communicate with their child effectively to help them enhance their performance in school. "An example would be a parent holding up a jar of juice and saying, 'Do you want this?' We teach the parent to help expand their child's vocabulary by not using words like this, that and those," Landry said. "A PALS coach would recommend saying, 'Would you like a glass of grape juice?' "

The TEEM program involves community-based partnerships where teachers take part in professional development courses and receive in-classroom mentoring. This enables the teachers to grow and make changes to their instructional techniques, even classroom design, to provide a better learning environment.

The federal grant will help fund the opening of 30 new TEEM and TEEM/PALS classrooms in the Houston area for the study. "We want scientific data that will show us whether the combination program is helping kids be better prepared for kindergarten," said Landry. "CLI will continue to use science to test teaching methods. The goal is to give children, no matter their economic status, the very best education."
-end-


University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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