Teaching Center to Foster Children’s Learning

Helping to foster children’s learning and readiness for school through the federal Head Start program is the goal of a new National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, created last fall with a $40 million grant from the Office of Head Start. Peabody College is one of seven institutions that compose the center, which began its work in January and will last five years. Approximately $5 million of the grant will fund research at Vanderbilt.

Other participating institutions are the University of Washington College of Education Haring Center, which will lead the effort; University of Virginia; Iowa State University; University of Southern Florida; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The goal of the new center is to provide leadership in the area of best practices in teaching and learning for Head Start training and technical-assistance providers, consultants and grantees. The center will be an integral component to ensuring that the federal investment in Head Start helps foster children’s learning and readiness for school.

The team of collaborators includes early learning experts in the fields of early care and education, early childhood special education and early intervention.

“One of the goals of the center will be to develop and implement a coaching and mentoring system to help Head Start teachers implement evidence-based practices related to teaching and learning,” says Mary Louise Hemmeter, MEd’87, PhD’91, associate professor of special education and the lead Vanderbilt researcher on the project. “We are excited to be able to scale up that approach with teachers all over the country.”

The new center is the fourth national research center at Peabody College. The others are the National Center on School Choice, the National Center on Performance Incentives, and the Developing Effective Schools Center.

The national Head Start program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was inspired by the work of Peabody College psychology professor Susan Gray, MA’39, PhD’41, in the 1960s. Gray’s landmark Early Training Project at Peabody was one of the first experimental studies to implement a preschool curriculum and family-based intervention for low-income children. That project, in collaboration with fellow researchers H. Carl Haywood and Nicholas Hobbs and with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., laid the foundation for Head Start.

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