The mission of the Chicago Center for Early Education (CCEE) was to provide Chicago’s early childhood community with resources and training materials based on current research and best practices to promote high-quality education for young children. CCEE was a free resource center for teachers, parents, students and child care professionals interested in early childhood education. The center, located within Malcolm X College, was established in 2002 in partnership with the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, the UIC Center for Literacy, and the City Colleges of Chicago. CCEE boasted a library of over 8,000 books and materials that patrons can check-out, and provides access to a workspace area with laminators, die cuts, and book binding machine. There was also a state of the art computer lab complete with scanners, printers, and poster makers. Every year, the center hosted workshops and meetings for organizations that provided early childhood educators and Chicago’s families with quality training they can apply in their lives and in the classroom. These hands-on workshops and trainings focused on building knowledge in early childhood education and in exploring resources from the center. All this was free, underscoring our goal of providing Chicago’s early childhood community with resources and training materials that are based on current research and best practices, thereby promoting high-quality education for young children.
UIC Early Reading First (ERF) was funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy. This collaborative team of early childhood teachers, school administrators, university faculty, early literacy coaches, and advanced graduate students helped build centers of early literacy excellence for three- and four-year-old children in schools in urban Chicago.
ERF Initiatives included APLLE (Achieving Preschool Language and Literacy) and IMPACT (Instructional Model Program for All Children and Teachers: Early Language and Literacy Excellence). These were implemented in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Chicago in schools with high numbers of children from low-income backgrounds. The preschool instructional teams (teachers and assistant teachers) at these schools worked with UIC literacy coaches and other staff to enhance their classroom literacy environments and implement a literacy- and content-rich curriculum. Charting a Course to Literacy, a program in partnership with three Chicago Public Schools Charter Schools, was completed in 2010.
The key to the success of these Early Reading First programs was comprehensive professional development coordinated with intensive in-classroom coaching. For more information, please visit http://www.uic.edu/educ/erf/.
The UIC Center for Literacy’s Family Support Center (FSC) was a safe, welcoming space for families in transition seeking city services at the Garfield Community Service Center in Chicago. The home-like atmosphere offered families space to relax in the midst of a stressful time for families. FSC offered books, games and toys for parents and children to play and explore together. Center staff was on hand to engage and assist families with age appropriate learning activities. Their services reached some of the city’s most vulnerable children, offering resources and support to families in need.
Project SOAR was a multifaceted family literacy program working with Head Start affiliated children, parents and teens to develop literacy, leadership and employment skills. Developed though a partnership with the UIC Center for Literacy and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, Project SOAR had four programs that trained parents and teens to be literacy leaders and early childhood advocates in Head Start centers. Project SOAR used curricula that taught parents and teens how to engage children with age appropriate early literacy and nutrition related activities, providing Head Start families with the skills they needed to create a holistic family-supported learning environment. These programs also prepared participating parents and teens to transition to further education or employment.
- The Parent Literacy Leaders Program was an employment and education training program for parents of Head Start children who were interested in careers in early childhood education. Program participants received hands-on work experience teaching under the direct supervision of Head Start teachers at partner sites. In addition, participants attended weekly professional training sessions covering topics such as child development, CPR, computer literacy, time management, and communications skills. Parent Literacy Leaders were required to be enrolled in early childhood development classes at the Chicago City Colleges or GED classes if they didn’t have a high school diploma so they could obtain the credentials needed to find appropriate jobs upon completion of the program. Throughout their time in the program, Project SOAR supported parents, helping them to understand the educational requirements they needed to secure gainful employment when they completed the program and providing them with the knowledge and skills they needed to facilitate creative early literacy activities within Head Start classrooms.
- The Teen Literacy Coach Program taught teens from Head Start families to work in Head Start classrooms alongside Head Start teachers. Teen Literacy Coaches learned how to engage children in early literacy activities, providing Head Start children with individualized, special attention that encouraged their love for learning. In addition to the classroom benefit for children in the Head Start program, Project SOAR provided training, mentoring, and technical assistance to help teens improve their own literacy and learning skills. Teens also examined career options both within and beyond the child care field. Teen Literacy Coaches regularly participated in workshops and trainings, which addressed topics such as early childhood development, college preparation, and life skills. These workshops helped teens to develop the confidence and leadership needed to effectively work with children and staff in Head Start classrooms.
- The Work Experience Program was designed to provide Head Start parents with exposure to a real world office environment. Parents were placed as administrative interns at partner Head Start sites where they received on-the-job training. Under the direction of site staff, Work Experience Participants assisted with tasks such as preparing reports, creating documents, and assisting with receptionist duties. Parents also received weekly career development and life skills training on topics such as computer training in Microsoft Office, workplace ethics, conflict resolution, and stress management, among other topics. Head Start parents participating in the program acquired valuable skills to help them succeed in positions that offered reasonable salaries and benefits upon completion of the program.
National Title I Study of Implementation and Outcomes: Early Childhood Language Development: During the past decade, the federal government has funded extensive research into reading comprehension at a variety of grade levels, including the evaluations of Early Reading First and Reading First and innovative studies of high school and middle school interventions targeted on reading comprehension improvement. The results of these tens of millions of dollars of research have not been very good. It is evident from these studies that improving reading comprehension is difficult and the idea of improving reading comprehension on scale is not likely given what we know at this time. Consequently, the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education is funding a large study through Mathematica Policy Research.
Timothy Shanahan of the UIC Center for Literacy is one of the principal investigators of this extensive and important nationwide investigation to identify school programs, policies, and teaching practices that are associated with improvements in language development, background knowledge, and reading comprehension outcomes for children in preschool through third grade.