Helios Gives a Much-Needed Boost to Early Childhood Education Reform

Posted on: July 22, 2010

A new partnership between the University of Arizona College of Education and Helios Education Foundation will change the way early childhood teachers are prepared by including family and community members as educators of future teachers.

"Community and family will be the heart of the new curriculum," says Iliana Reyes, associate professor and codirector of the project. In the first year, with funding of $347,000, professors, teachers, and community members will begin a complete redesign of the current early childhood courses and language and literacy projects at the college. A key component, focusing on family knowledge, will help teacher-education students to recognize and build upon children's use of language and literacy when they create, convey, and exchange ideas. Reyes notes, "This approach will support children's emergent literacy and will provide teachers with tools and experience to effectively support English-language learners in their classroom communities."

"We are extremely excited for this new partnership with the UA College of Education," said Paul Luna, president and CEO of Helios. "This unique partnership will help redesign early childhood teacher education coursework by engaging families and communities to create culturally relevant literacy and language activities in the early childhood classroom."

According to Ronald W. Marx, dean of the College of Education, "Early childhood education needs to aggressively incorporate strategies that span home, school, and community. When school-based instruction does not build on the literacy knowledge within the home and community, it is less effective because it underestimates the knowledge children bring to the school setting and, therefore, their potential achievement."

Teacher-education programs rarely have focused on understanding the histories, cultures, and social competencies of children, their families, and their communities. "The grant provides resources to put this focus in all of our classes - science, mathematics, social studies, and literacy," notes Chris Iddings, associate professor and codirector. "We are coordinating all of our courses and assignments. In addition, our program includes a professional development component that will build on the voices and experiences of in-service teachers as we move toward a more comprehensive approach to educational equity."

In the first year, faculty, staff, and community members from the Flowing Wells, Sunnyside, and Tucson Unified School Districts will work together to create opportunities for UA students to meet families throughout the community and to learn about effective teacher-parent-family communication. A community liaison, who lives within the district boundaries, will be hired to facilitate these interactions.

Teachers and teacher-education students will create literacy backpacks for children to take home to share stories from literature and to record family stories and traditions. These stories will become a part of the teacher-education program and the early childhood curriculum in Flowing Wells. Literacy Professor Kathy Short says, "Literature offers the potential to transform children's lives through connecting their hearts and their minds, so they can effectively integrate reason and emotion. Children find themselves reflected in stories and make connections that transform their understanding."

Marx notes, "Children begin learning as soon as they are born, yet not all children have access to high-quality early childhood education with highly qualified teachers. Moreover, everyone - researchers and the public alike - understands the value of good teachers for children's development. The partnership between Helios Education Foundation and the UA College of Education will increase the chances that all young children in Arizona will, indeed, be taught by excellent teachers."

Category: Early Grade Success

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