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Training Pitt’s Early Childhood Preservice Teachers in Social Justice, Diversity, and Equity

by Dr. Anna Arlotta-Guerrero, Director of Pitt’s Early Childhood Preservice Teacher Education Program  We are so excited to begin investigating the preparation of pre-service teachers with Dr. Shannon Wanless and members of the SEED Lab at the University of Pittsburgh!  As the coordinator of the Combined Accelerated Studies in Education (CASE) program my charge is to develop opportunities for our students to learn from teaching experts, gain valuable field experiences and begin to reflect on their own teaching practice. CASE is a comprehensive Early Childhood teacher preparation program that culminates in a B.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology and a M.Ed. in Instruction and Learning.  Candidates prepare for Dual Certification in PK-4 Early Childhood and PK-8 Special Education.  The segment of the CASE program that I have always believed to have the most impact on our pre-service teachers, as well as on their future students, is the Social Justice, Diversity and Equity classes integrated into the curriculum.  Our CASE students take two culture and social foundations courses, learn Best Practices in teaching English Language Learners, participate in a global teaching course, as well as our new course, Attentional Teaching Practices (ATP), on mindfulness and perspective-taking.  Since students have four different practicum and student teaching experiences we make sure to place each member of our cohorts in classrooms in urban schools.  Many students spend three or four of their experiences in urban settings so as to be prepared for their job search after graduation.  We’ve believed for years that the above-mentioned classes and field experiences have been transformative for our students.  Now, we find that it is important for our own practice to study the design of the CASE program and understand more fully how the curriculum not only supports student learning, but prepares each student to have impact on the students that they will teach in an ever-changing diverse world.  In partnership with SEED lab doctoral student, Jennifer Briggs, we completed our first round of data collection in the fall of 2016. This data is intended to kick start our exploration of the impact the Social Justice, Diversity and Equity-related courses have on student learning. Specifically, we used pre and posttest measures to track students’ comfort in talking about issues related to race, cultural, and ethnicity, and their understanding of such topics in relation to student learning. In addition, we offered students the opportunity to share with us the most valuable proponents of the course, as well as areas they feel could be improved upon for future cohorts. We are eager to dig deeper into the 50+ student responses to both advance our understanding of the program’s influence and create more enriching learning opportunities. We look forward to continuously improving the CASE program so that Pitt can continue to prepare early childhood teachers who are ready to work with ALL children and families.  Click here to learn more about CASE.

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The SEED Lab Addresses Mayor’s Proposal to Expand PreK

The SEED Lab aims to advance local policy and practice to best serve local children. Recently, we had an opportunity to support our Mayor’s efforts to increase the city’s investment in prekindergarten. Specifically, at a City Council Meeting on November 14, 2016, lab member and Pitt doctoral student Ashley Shafer offered the following public comment about the importance of expanding public prekindergarten in Pittsburgh.


Hello, my name is Ashley Shafer I am a resident of Point Breeze, an applied developmental psychologist, and a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. I work in a research lab in the School of Education with faculty who are trying to figure out how to improve the quality of pre-k in Pittsburgh so that it offers maximum benefits to all children. In our research we have moved past wondering whether high-quality pre-k is good for all children. Research states, …unequivocally…that it is. What we try to figure out in our lab is how we can make this good experience, a great experience for each and every child who walks through the classroom door. This is one major way we can lay the foundation for children’s lifelong academic, social, and economic success.

I want to thank Mayor Peduto and the Council for focusing on extending pre-K in the City of Pittsburgh. For we know that the relationships and experiences children have in their early years lay the foundation for future success in school. This is a crucial time for young children, particularly those most at risk. We are responsible for diminishing the opportunity gap before it starts, and this can alleviate the need for costly interventions later. By extending public pre-K, we are helping to support the families in our community that do not have the means to send their children to privet programs. All children, regardless of their parent’s income deserve high quality education and care too. Did you know that private pre-Ks in Pittsburgh can cost up to $15,000 per year? For many, this cost far exceeds family budgets, especially considering that most pre-K programs do not cover the entire workday, and need to be supplemented with extra care for children whose parents work full-time. Likewise, the range in quality of pre-k programs is vast, but the public pre-K that Pittsburgh currently offers is really raising the bar to make sure that all children receive academically stimulating and rich social experiences that make them ready to learn when they arrive in elementary school.

Research tells us that children who attend high quality pre-k are more prepared for the transition to kindergarten. They are exposed to various learning opportunities, relationship building with peers and adults, and taught how to preserver and master new and challenging skills. Studies have found that children who attended pre-k programs earn more money, are less likely to participate or be convicted of criminal activity, and that every $1invested in pre-k programs repays the general public $13.

Giving all children in the City of Pittsburgh access to high-quality pre-K care and education will improve not only these children’s educational and life outcomes, but as a City will progress us forward. For we know, the children are our future and expanding the access to high-quality pre-K in the City of Pittsburgh will result in an improved future for all of us.

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The SEED Lab Makes an Impact

As the director of The SEED Lab, I bring my passion for making an impact to everything we do.  My approach to research is defined by my identity as an applied developmental psychologist and my background as a Head Start teacher and Fulbright scholar. It is grounded in relational theories, empirical evidence, and my own experiences with learners from across the lifespan. At the SEED Lab, we conduct research that is useful to practitioners and has an impact on the field. To achieve this aim, we spend time in classrooms, provide professional development training, and engage in local early childhood events. We work hard to stay calibrated to real-world settings. By listening to educators, we are grounded in their most pressing questions, and can account for the real world constraints they face everyday. This strategy eases the translation of our research findings to practice. We are fortunate to have many opportunities at the University of Pittsburgh and in Pennsylvania to act on our research findings and share them with others who are in positions to do the same.

Our lab’s impact includes regular outreach to the community, and some of that can be seen in our media coverage below.

Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education

Understanding racial identity issues in our children and US, Lynn Hayes Freeland Show, CBS Pittsburgh, May 22, 2016 [link]

Study: Your toddler knows about race and everyone should be talking about it: Beaver County Times, April 19, 2016 [link]New Pittsburgh Courier, April 14, 2016 [link]

New report from University of Pittsburgh says we need to talk about race with children, NEXTPittsburgh, April 18, 2016 [link]

Peduto, Humphrey, researchers release report on race and education, The Pitt News, April 15, 2016 [link]

Pitt report promotes positive racial identity in local children, Pittsburgh Business Times, April 14, 2016 [link]

Research notes, racial perceptions report to be discussed, University Times, April 14, 2016, [link]

University of Pittsburgh report looks at racial bias in early childhood education, Pittsburgh City Paper, April 14, 2016 [link]

A+ schools education update understanding PRIDE in Pittsburgh, A+ Schools YouTube, April 11, 2016 [link]

Developing positive racial perceptions in children, Pitt Chronicle, April 11, 2016 [link]

Positive racial identities can help children learn, The Pitt News, April 5, 2016 [link]

Early positive racial identity could help close achievement gap, 90.5 WESA, Essential Pittsburgh, March 28, 2016 [link]

Peg + Cat: Developing Preschoolers’ Early Math Skills

Fred Rogers Company receives National Science Foundation grant, Animation World Network, October 7, 2015 [link]

Readiness to Implement Social Emotional Interventions

Like a game of poker, school programs’ success can hinge on principals going all in, Science Daily, November 15, 2012 [link]

School success tied to principal’s enthusiasm, Pitt News Services, November 15, 2012 [link]

Taiwan Social Skill Development Study

Connecting the dots between play and learning in the classroom, 90.5 WESA, October 23, 2013 [link]

Well-behaved children? Don’t count out the boys, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 17, 2013 [link]

Classroom gender bias may hurt male students in the U.S., Healthline News, May 24, 2013 [link]

Gender differences in young children, The British Psychological Society, May 24, 2013 [link]

Simon says, do better at school, The Toronto Star, December 26, 2012 [link]

Can you teach self-discipline?, Mom stories, July 29, 2011 [link]

Self-regulation game helps preschool-age children in different countries improve academically, Medical News Today, July 20, 2011 [link]

“Simon Says” teaches self-control, Mercatornet, July 19, 2011 [link]

Preschool-age kids in different countries improve academically using self-regulation game, (e)Science News, July 18, 2011 [link]

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