Category Archives: Children, Families & Communities

Reuters interviews Gunnar about new study on early adverse experiences

Dr. Megan Gunnar
Dr. Megan Gunnar

Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Child Development, was interviewed by Reuters about how adverse experiences can impact a child’s health and development.

The article highlighted a new, small study in JAMA Pediatrics that examined the link between neighborhood factors – like liquor store density, domestic violence and violent crime rates – and stress in children.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Tulane University and included 85 children in New Orleans, found that children who lived near more liquor stores or crime, experienced high cortisol levels that were less likely to return to normal after a stress test.

Commenting on the findings, Gunnar said that “[e]arly adverse experiences do get under our skin to influence our biology,” noting that “children need safe places to live in order to grow into healthy and productive adults.”

Despite this, Gunnar said many children who experience adverse neighborhood factors will be resilient. “Identifying the protective factors that support that resilience and building on them, especially for children showing the effects of toxic exposures, is the appropriate response to the pediatric health issues revealed by this study.”

Cook featured in News Tribune article for work with Sumner School District to prevent bullying

Clayton Cook head shot
Clayton Cook

Clayton Cook, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s school psychology program, was recently featured in a News Tribune article for his work helping the Sumner School District in Washington implement its Go! Project (Growing Opportunities for Hope) Whole Child program to prevent bullying. The project is an effort to provide well-rounded social emotional supports to students and establish school culture that create prosocial norms to promote respect for self, others, and the environment. John Norlin, Sumner School District program administrator, explained one of the tactics Cook shared to help the district prevent bullying. “Clayton Cook said if you have teachers greeting at the door, and they’re connecting and students have a task when they arrive, in an hour-long class period you will get 20 percent more active engagement. They’re less likely to act out in negative ways.”

Read the full article, “Sumner School District focuses on the whole child to prevent bullying.”

Chalkbeat Colorado interviews Carlson about importance of executive function

CarlsonS-Pref
Stephanie Carlson

Stephanie Carlson, Ph.D., a professor in the Institute of Child Development, was interviewed by Chalkbeat Colorado about the importance of executive function.

Executive function refers to a set of skills that helps individuals pay attention, control impulses and think flexibly. During the interview, Carlson explained how executive function is related to the achievement gap and offered suggestions for how parents, educators and policymakers can help children develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom.

“Difficulties with executive function really set kids up to fail in school,” Carlson said, later adding, “I would like to encourage educators and parents to get involved in these issues. There’s no powerless figure: ‘There’s nothing I can do for my class or for my child that’s going to make any difference.’ You really can and it’s a collective form of empowerment.”

Learn more about Carlson’s research and her start-up Reflection Sciences.

Star Tribune interviews Susman-Stillman on changing role of play in kindergarten classrooms

Amy Susman-Stillman
Amy Susman-Stillman

Amy Susman-Stillman, Ph.D., director of applied research at the Center for Early Education and Development, was featured in a Star Tribune article that explored changes to the kindergarten curriculum in Minnesota.

Across the state, kindergarten curriculum has shifted from “learning-while-playing” to emphasizing reading and math in an effort to meet new standards.

According to the Star Tribune, Susman-Stillman said that in “the process, guided adult-supported playtime like sand and water play, dress-up corners and role-playing has largely vanished from kindergarten classrooms.”

The article noted that as the kindergarten curriculum has become more rigorous, teachers are working to balance academics and developmentally appropriate activities.

Rodriguez featured in University’s Driven to Discover campaign

Michael Rodriguez head shot
Dr. Michael Rodriguez

Opportunity gaps among children in our society are growing, and part of the problem is how we assess and educate them. Michael Rodriguez, Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development, co-director of the Educational Equity Resource Center, and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s quantitative methods in education program, is being featured in this year’s Driven to Discover campaign for his work to close  these gaps by helping schools understand how to work with diverse students, families, and communities. View the campaign.

Three ICD faculty featured in U of M Driven to Discover campaign

Three Institute of Child Development (ICD) faculty members will be featured as part of the University of Minnesota (U of M) Driven to Discover campaign.

Dr. Megan Gunnar
Dr. Megan Gunnar

This year’s campaign emphasizes the U of M’s collective strengths in tackling big challenges in four key areas, including abolishing hunger, closing the opportunity gap, ending addiction and protecting human rights.

For the campaign, ICD faculty Megan Gunnar, Philip Zelazo and Jed Elison shared how their research is helping to close the opportunity gap.

Dr. Philip Zelazo
Dr. Philip Zelazo

Gunnar, director of the institute, Regents Professor and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, discussed the importance of investing in early childhood and promoting healthy development for all children.

Zelazo, a Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor, highlighted his research on executive function, which can help predict kindergarten readiness and academic success.

Dr. Jed Elison
Dr. Jed Elison

Elison, an assistant professor, discussed how he is working to detect autism earlier to help children and families access interventions and achieve better outcomes.

The campaign, which launched in TV, print, digital, and social media on Sept. 26, will feature Gunnar, Zelazo and Elison throughout Fall 2016.

Excellence in Student Research: Meet C&I’s Doctoral Dissertation Fellows

The University of Minnesota created the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF) program to allow the “the University’s most accomplished PhD candidates an opportunity to devote full-time effort to an outstanding research project by providing time to finalize and write a dissertation during the fellowship year.”  This academic year, the Department of Curriculum & Instruction was honored to receive the award for four of its outstanding PhD candidates.

What constitutes an outanding research project? We find out more about the four DDF recipients and their dissertation projects, career interests, and how they are planning to create change and promote knowledge for learners of all ages:

Melissa Engman

Revitalizing language, reframing expertise:  An ecological study of language in one teacher-learner’s Ojibwe classroom

Melissa Engman conducts research in an Ojibwe classroom.

When Melissa Engman was a graduate student in applied linguistics, she worked with associate professor Mary Hermes transcribing Ojibwe videos. The work led her to take a class in language revitalization—the process of reviving declining, often indigenous languages—and there she found resonance in the inherent social justice issues that arose with cultures who have seen their native language use dwindle. “I became aware that I’m a white person living here on land that was once Ojibwe and Dakota land. I began to think about assumptions and power that come with speaking a dominant language,” Engman says.

Engman’s work focuses on a classroom in the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Northwest Wisconsin where Ojibwe language is part of the curriculum. Due to the fact that Ojibwe language instruction materials are very few and many of the teachers have varying experiences with formal language training, Engman is trying to understand how to model the language revitalization program to be effective.

Engman attributes her research success partially to an atmosphere of collaborative support in her with her peers in Second Language Education. “Our cohort has very different research areas, but critical thinking is what unites our work,” Engman says. “We’re not afraid to challenge and push each other. That’s created a real sense of camaraderie and support. The faculty have done a really good job of fostering those relationships.”

Jenna Cushing-Leubner

Recuperating heritage languages, becoming transformative educators: Multilingual teachers and students of color transforming schools

Jenna Cushing-Leubner is developing and implementing a "heritage language" curriculum with the help of participating teachers. (Photo by Erin Hinrichs)
Jenna Cushing-Leubner is developing and implementing a “heritage language” curriculum with the help of participating teachers. (Photo by Erin Hinrichs)

After completing a Fulbright Scholarship teaching German to Turkish students in Austria, Cushing-Leubner realized that the non-native language learners in the schools were being left behind. She found a similar situation for Spanish-speaking students in the United States, which led her to focus her dissertation on developing a “heritage language” curriculum for students who speak Spanish at home. These students can use their home language as a springboard to learning more about their history, heritage and be included more effectively in a classroom setting.

“Multilingual kids are not represented in the current curriculum at all. They don’t see school as a space that’s designed for them,” Cushing-Leubner explains the problem with current foreign language classrooms. “Heritage language classes can reverse the trend of excluding home-language speakers.”

Cushing-Leubner is working with new teachers in high schools and middle schools across the Twin Cities metro.  They have already successfully implemented heritage language classes in Spanish that use Latino-American history as a way for students to practice reading and writing the language they already speak proficiently. For these students, “keeping ties to their heritage languages is a point of strength and hope, and helps create community with one another,” says Cushing-Leubner.

Emily Midkiff

Enabling Space Cadets: Quality Science Fiction for Children under 12 Years Old

Emily Midkiff got sidetracked while working on a class project to analyze a library’s circulation data.  She noticed how little children’s science fiction existed compared to children’s fantasy literature, though the check-out rates were the same. This led Midkiff to create her dissertation to examine science fiction for children under 12, an area that is largely neglected but important to the development of interest in the STEM education fields.

Emily Midkiff is conducting a case study of children's science fiction.
Emily Midkiff is conducting a case study of children’s science fiction.

“There are all these interview on how engineers, scientists and people at NASA read sci-fi when they were little. It shaped how they view science; Not a lot of people make that connection,” Midkiff says. She plans to look for strong girl characters and diverse heroines in children’s science fiction to better understand the lack of women and minorities in the STEM fields as part of her research.

Jenifer Vanek

Migrant Adult Learners and Digital Literacy: Collaborative Study for Sustainable Change

Jen Vanek has been working in the field of adult literacy and second-language learning for 20 years, the last 10 of which she has focused on digital literacy. Her dissertation is aimed at helping adult ESL teachers integrate online learning into teaching. She is working closely with four community-based organizations to to design digital homerooms stocked with learning resources for adult English-language learners to use in their computer learning labs.

Jenifer Vanek is working in the to advance digital literacy for adult second-language learners.
Jenifer Vanek is workingto advance digital literacy for adult second-language learners.

“I hope that what emerges at the end are not only instructional resources that solve local problems, but also observations on how learning happens that can be applied to other learning environments,” says Vanek.

Learn more about the Ph.D. programs in Second Language Education and Literacy or other doctoral programs in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction.

Nominations are open for next year’s DDF fellowship.

 

 

C&I’s Diane Tedick receives $2.7 million grant to improve educational outcomes for English learners

Professor Diane Tedick
Professor Diane Tedick

Diane Tedick, professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, received a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support English learners (ELs) through programs focusing on dual language and immersion teacher education and professional development, as well as parent education. The five-year grant project will be called the “Dual Language and Immersion Pathways to English Learner Success Through Professional Development and Parent Engagement Project (DLI3P).” Tedick received significant contributions from Tara W. Fortune, the immersion project director in the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) in both conceptualizing the project and writing the grant proposal.

The need to improve English learner education is imperative as English learners are the fastest growing and lowest achieving group of learners in U.S. schools, according to recent data. Research has consistently shown that dual language and immersion (DLI) programs are the most effective in preparing ELs to achieve academically in English. ELs in well-implemented DLI programs do as well as or better on standardized tests in English than peers schooled only through English.

The project aims to address the issue by improving instruction for English learners through the development and implementation of three programs:

  • a two-year, elementary education licensure program specifically teachers in DLI contexts. The new program is slated to start its first cohort in January 2017.
  • a two-year, in-service professional development certificate program for licensed DLI teachers aimed at better serving English learners, which will be offered in the coming year.
  • multiple DLI, parent-family education and engagement curriculum modules that can be accessed to supplement existing, district-sponsored parent education programs or to inform the creation of programs in participating districts throughout the country. Scholars in the field have found that educators who work to involve parents and families in their children’s education can improve their effectiveness with English learners. This piece of the program, led by Tara Fortune, will be important to ensure student success.

The project will involve a consortium of partners at the University including CARLA and the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). The project is also partnering with six area school districts and a private school in the Twin Cities Metro that have existing two-way bilingual immersion programs. Throughout the project, evaluators will gather high-quality data to assess project efforts with the aim of feeding back into the project for review and improvement on the question of how to prepare and support a diverse cadre of bilingual teachers better prepared to serve English learners and DLI programs effectively.

The grant projects are designed to provide teachers with high quality, DLI-specific preparation and professional development to ensure that programs are well-implemented and to expand the skills, strategies and knowledge of DLI parents and families to improve engagement. The end goal is to make progress toward closing the achievement gap between native English speaking students and English learners and promote equity in the education system.

Dr. Tedick teaches in the Second Language Education program area in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. Learn more about the second language education programs offered for graduate and undergraduate students.

Thul receives grant for intergenerational physical activity program

Dr. Chelsey Thul
Dr. Chelsey Thul

A project titled “Impact of an East African Mother-Daughter Physical Activity Program and Co-Designed Activewear” received a $75,000 University of Minnesota Extension FY 2016-2018 Block Grant. The project is led by:

  • Chelsey Thul, Ph.D., Lecturer in the School of Kinesiology
  • Elizabeth Bye, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head of the Apparel Design Program in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota
  • Jennifer Weber, Behavior Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator/Athletic Director at the Cedar-Riverside Community School
  • Mary Marczak, Director of Urban Family Development and Evaluation at University of Minnesota Extension
The project aims to engage 10-15 urban, East African mother-daughter (in 2nd-5th grade) pairs in a two-year intergenerational physical activity program. The goal of the program is to increase physical activity opportunities through physical activity and healthy living education, practice and the co-design of culturally sensitive activewear. The study extends Bye, LaVoi, Thul & Hussein’s 2013-2015 culturally sensitive activewear co-design project with East African adolescent girls, which resulted in the design of a general physical activity garment and the first-ever sport uniform for adolescent Muslim girls in the U.S., to a wider range of girls and their mothers.

Center for Resilient Families will serve needs of traumatized children and families

itrThe Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR)  announced the funding of a new national center to raise awareness of, and increase access to, family interventions that promote resilience in traumatized children.

The Center for Resilient Families, funded with a $3 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a partnership between Ambit Network at the University of Minnesota (PI, Dr. Abigail Gewirtz), developers of evidence-based family programs at Arizona State University’s REACH Institute, Implementation Sciences International, and the Research Consortium on Gender-based Violence.

Over the next five years, the Center for Resilient Families will adapt and put into practice five parenting interventions that have been found through rigorous testing to be effective at strengthening resilience among traumatized families. These interventions will serve more than 35,000 people and specifically target isolated families in transition, such as:

  • those with a parent deployed to war
  • Native American families on reservations
  • immigrant and refugee families
  • families involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems
  • families in which a parent has been killed

ITR is excited to house the groundbreaking work of this center, which furthers its mission of bridging the vast gap between research and practice in children’s mental health. Learn more about ITR’s work at itr.umn.edu.

C&I Graduate Triples Elementary Test Scores in One Year, Closes Achievement Gap

Bonnie Laabs
Courtesy of City Pages

Reporter Susan Du of City Pages recently reported that after just one year as the science teacher in struggling Hamline Elementary school, Bonnie Laabs raised the science proficiency rate from 17 percent to 61 percent, meeting the statewide average. According to Jodie Wilson, Hamline’s testing coordinator, this tremendous jump is “extremely unheard of” in St. Paul Schools.

Laabs uses a combination of extra-academic advice and mentoring, along with creative explanations of difficult science terminology with the help of classroom pets to help students overcome hurdles in scientific understanding.

She is also open about her own past in which she struggled with abuse at an early age, spent time in foster care, and got thrown out of school. She uses her redemption through education as an example to her students, allowing them to open up about their own fears and problems. Laabs also tells her story to underscore the importance of completing homework and getting a good education.

Bonnie Laabs graduated with a Ph.D. from the Department of Curriculum & Instruction with a focus on family, youth, and community. To read the entire article visit the CityPages website.

Groundbreaking Conference on Precision Mental Health Care

Moving Toward Precision Healthcare in Children’s Mental Health:
New Perspectives, Methodologies, and Technologies in Therapeutics and Prevention
 October 5, 6, 7, 2016
Cowles Auditorium
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Register here

 

Mental health is personal, and there is a growing body of research showing the effectiveness of highly personalized treatments. A groundbreaking conference will bring experts in the field of personalized, precision-based treatment from all over the country to Minneapolis this fall to discuss cutting edge research and practice in the field, and how it relates to children’s mental health.

Moving Toward Precision Healthcare in Children’s Mental Health” will take place October 5-7 at the University of Minnesota’s Cowles Auditorium. It is hosted by the recently-established Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health at the University of Minnesota (ITR), which aims to bring experts together from across disciplines to bridge the gap between research and practice in children’s mental health practice.

The three-day symposium is free to attend and is open to investigators, academic professionals, and students with an interest in improving mental health outcomes for children. Participants will leave with a better understanding of one of the central questions in children’s mental health prevention and intervention work: how can effective prevention interventions be tailored to individual needs?

Spots fill up fast — reserve yours today at z.umn.edu/precise.

Minor in TESL Helps Students Build Communities While Furthering Their Career

teslminorarticle“One of my main goals coming into college was to gain new perspectives, which the minor in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) has done for me,” says English literature major, Ellie McCabe. “It’s provided me a really good look into what it’s like to be learning a new language, and in doing so gave me a lot more empathy towards those who are trying to learn English.” The 4-course minor (or post-baccalaureate certificate) offered by the Department of Curriculum & Instruction is geared at preparing students to teach English abroad or in community ESL programs to non-native speakers or as a springboard to further graduate study.

Early childhood education student, Chloe Imhoff, became interested in the minor as a way to further her teaching skills and job prospects. “The TESL minor allowed me a different perspective on education and a deeper look into how can I better assist my future ESL students. It gave me some strategies and allowed me experience working with ESL students through service learning opportunities,” she notes.

Erika Diaz, who recently completed her bachelor’s degree in child psychology, was drawn to the program in order to help ESL learners become active members of the community. “I took it for granted knowing English,” Diaz admits. By helping new English-language learners she aims to strengthen diverse communities.

Diaz also appreciated the individualized attention and close ties created during the TESL program. “The small classrooms and knowledgeable instructors have made this experience make me feel like a part of a community. “

Many of the program’s graduates plan to teach abroad, including Virge Klatt, who is completed the TESL program as a post-baccalaureate certificate and plans to go back to her native Estonia one day to teach English. Spanish major, Whitley Lubeck, would like to teach English abroad for a year before teaching at home. “The TESL minor gives me the option to teach here or abroad and goes hand-in-hand with my major,” says Lubeck.

The participants of the program keep coming back to one specific aspect of the program that engaged them, and that’s the ability to create ties and build bridges through language. “The minor is only four courses, and so worth it!” says McCabe. “If you want to build relationships with people from different communities and make a difference while doing so, I can’t recommend it enough.”

To learn more about the TESL minor/certificate visit the program’s webpage or contact Martha Bigelow. Priority deadline for Spring admission is December 15.

 

 

 

First Annual Reflective Supervision Symposium

2016 Reflective Supervision Symposium
Mary Harrison, Jill Hennes, Christopher Watson, and Kristin Armbruster

Christopher Watson and Mary Harrison from the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) attended the first annual Reflective Supervision Symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor August 10-12. The Symposium was hosted by the newly incorporated Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health and the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health. On the first day of the Symposium, Watson presented a new research and training tool, the Reflective Interaction Observation Scale (RIOS), developed by the Alliance research committee. The team is led by the Minnesota team of Watson, Harrison, Jill Hennes and Maren Harris. The RIOS identifies five Essential Elements – the “active ingredients” – in reflective supervision/consultation that is grounded in infant mental health theory and practice. The Symposium featured live, unrehearsed individual and group reflective supervision sessions and facilitated reflective small group processing. One of the presenters was Minnesota independent consultant and trainer Jill Hennes. Kristin Armbruster, coordinator of the Minnesota Association for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, rounded out the Minnesota contingent at the Symposium.

Rodriguez talks with MPR, Pioneer Press about state math, reading scores

Michael Rodriguez head shot
Michael Rodriguez

Michael Rodriguez, Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s Quantitative Methods in Education program was recently interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and quoted in the Pioneer Press on the 2016 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs). Students’ performance on these statewide tests— which measure progress toward Minnesota’s academic standards in reading and math— remained largely unchanged over last year. More specifically, Black, Hispanic, and Native American students’ test scores continued to be roughly one-third that of their white counterparts.

Dr. Rodriguez told the Pioneer Press, although the state has made smart policy decisions to try to close achievement gaps, the MCA results don’t reflect that. “We haven’t seen it in the outcomes, and that’s really frustrating,” he said. “This is not just the Minnesota story. We see this nationally.”

“It’s really unfortunate that we expect so much from this single event test score,” Rodriguez said in his interview with MPR. “It’s telling us there’s not much movement. But I’m not convinced that single measure is going to be sensitive enough to pick of the kinds of movements that are occurring.”

When asked (by the Pioneer Press) what schools can do to improve outcomes for low-performing student groups, Dr. Rodriguez suggested communities be brought into the schools, making the instruction more culturally relevant to the students and demonstrating that education leads to greater opportunities.

Read the Pioneer Press article.

Listen to the MPR interview.

IGDILab receives over $4 million in grants to research early language and literacy

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has awarded the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDILab) three $1.4 million, four-year grants to expand research in assessment of early language and literacy development of children ages three to five. Three researchers from the Department of Educational PsychologyAlisha Wackerle-Hollman (school psychology), Scott McConnell (special education), and Michael Rodriguez (quantitative methods in education) will lead the IGDILab grants. Colleagues (and College of Education and Human Development alumni) from the Universities of Oregon, Washington, and Nebraska and Lehigh University will help conduct the research.

In a joint statement on the three grants Dr. McConnell and Dr. Wackerle-Hollman wrote, “We are excited to expand our work on IGDIs, and to continue the long line of research and application of General Outcome Measures— a line of work that Stan Deno and colleagues initiated almost 40 years ago. While the methods are slightly different, the overall aim remains the same: Produce psychometrically rigorous measures that are easy to use, so that teachers and others can have a better sense of their students’ current development and possible need for additional supports.”

Progress Monitoring Individual Growth and Development Indicators (PM-IGDIs) will develop a set of tools to assess young children’s language and literacy skills at frequent intervals and depict performance trajectories over time to aid in identifying children in need of intervention. Specifically, PM-IGDIs will examine four-and five-year-olds’ phonological awareness, oral language, alphabet knowledge and comprehension. Read the abstract.

Progress Monitoring – Spanish – Individual Growth and Development Indicators (PM – S – IGDIs) will use procedures and analyses similar to PM-IGDIs to develop a set of tools to frequently measure Spanish early language and literacy performance of  young Spanish-English Dual Language Learners. PM-S-IGDIs will examine four and five-year-olds’ Spanish phonological awareness, oral language and alphabet knowledge. Read the abstract.

“Nearly one in four children in the United States is Latino and more than one in five comes from a home where a language other than English is spoken,” says Dr. Wackerle-Hollman. “But within that group, research tells us up to 85% are not proficient readers by fourth grade. It is clear that we must improve how we support our SE-DLL students, and we’re excited to contribute to that work with new, empirically sound and conceptually strong measurement tools.”

An extension of the existing Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs) measurement system, IGDIs – PK3 will assess the language and literacy development of three-year-olds. These measures will lead to improvements in school readiness for preschool children by providing an age appropriate assessment from age three to kindergarten entry. Read the abstract.

“As early childhood services continue to expand in Minnesota and throughout the nation, we’ll need better ways to assess and support age-appropriate progress for younger and younger children,” says Dr. McConnell. “This project extends our reach, exploring new ways to extend General Outcome Measurement to even younger children.”

IGDILab

The IGDILab researches, develops, validates, and applies IGDIs to support data-based decision making by teachers, early childhood professionals, parents, and others to help improve early childhood outcomes. To date, the lab’s work includes the assessment of English and Spanish language and early literacy development for children three, four, and five years of age. In the future, research, data, and learned methods from the IGDILab plan to be applied to other languages, domains of development, and new settings, including communities.

McConnell quoted in MinnPost on new technology to lessen ‘word gap’

Scott McConnell
Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, was recently quoted in the MinnPost article, “Boosting early language learning, one recording session at a time.”

The article defines the “word gap” as the “30 million word-exposure gulf that exists between children born into low-income families and their more affluent peers by the age of three.” It goes on to explain how one new early childhood education class at Northstar Mona Moede Early Childhood Center in North Minneapolis is attempting to lessen this gap, using a recording device and course materials that are part of a program called LENA StartTM. Parents participating in the program record a day’s worth of their child’s speech patterns, and a coach analyzes the results and offers advice.

Dr. McConnell, who is working to help implement and evaluate the LENA Start program in the Twin Cities, told MinnPost, “It’s really common for families to say, ‘I had no idea I was a teacher.’ Our experience with LENA so far is that parents are overwhelmed, in a positive way, by seeing their own data.”

 Read the full article.

PsyF student awarded the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle award

Kelsey-WillPsychological foundations student, Kelsey Will, has been awarded the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle Award (WPLC) for graduate students.

The WPLC award is for women graduate students to recognize their achievements and successes in their field of interest. The criteria for the award includes academic achievements, community involvement, leadership, and passion for the academic and professional career of choice.

Kelsey worked as a literacy tutor through the YMCA and St. Paul Public Libraries during her undergraduate career. She credits those experiences to what sparked her interest in supporting students’ learning and development related to reading. During the past couple of years, Kelsey has worked with preschool and elementary-age children who have been diagnosed with autism, which has furthered Kelsey’s interests in reading and comprehension skills in children.

As Kelsey explores career paths, she is interested in supporting children in reading and comprehension skills. She would like to not only support children at an individual level, but would also like to offer resources to teachers to understand the best methods to support students in the classrooms.  As a result in receiving this award, Kelsey will be able to present her research at the 26th Annual Meeting of the Society of Text and Discourse in Kassel, Germany in July 2016.

CSPP student awarded the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle award

Abigail-BuuckCounseling and student personnel psychology student, Abigail Buuck, has been awarded the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC) award for graduate students.

The WPLC award is for women graduate students to recognize their achievements and successes in their field of interest. The criteria for the award includes academic achievements, community involvement, leadership, and passion for the academic and professional career of choice.


Abigail’s career aspirations are to become employed as an urban high school counselor in the Twin Cities. She is passionate about equity and closing the achievement gap in education. Abigail’s previous community engagement included volunteering abroad in England, selected as an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow at a middle school in Minneapolis, and offering her time as a mentor for tutoring programs in college.

Johnson receives WPLC Rising Star Faculty Award

LeAnne Johnson head shot
Dr. LeAnne Johnson

LeAnne Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, recently was awarded the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC) “Rising Star Faculty Award.”

Dr. Johnson was nominated by her colleague, professor and special education program coordinator, Kristen McMaster. In her nomination letter, Dr. McMaster recognized Dr. Johnson for her work to “improve the quality of service delivery to children at risk of long-term behavioral problems – which can have tremendous social, emotional, and academic consequences.” According to Dr. McMaster, Dr. Johnson’s work “seamlessly links research and practice to ensure that critical knowledge is translated successfully into action.”

The WPLC Rising Star Faculty Award recognizes a pre-tenure women faculty member in the College of Education and Human Development who has demonstrated leadership and creativity in an academic area as shown by research, teaching, and service. The recipient receives a $1,000 award for professional development.