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Pre-K partnerships

Research team examines early childhood education in Grant County

Taylor Hughes, Nicole Walker, Charlie Richert, Lauren Pfeifer and Courtney Selle presented their research in Ayres last night.

Taylor Hughes, Nicole Walker, Charlie Richert, Lauren Pfeifer and Courtney Selle presented their research in Ayres last night.

By Wren Haynes | Echo

Some of us spent this past summer in internships, at camps or hanging out at home with friends. But for several Taylor students, this summer was an opportunity to perform in-depth research on early childhood education in Grant County.

Last night, seniors Charlie Richert, Lauren Pfeifer, Courtney Selle, Nicole Walker and Taylor Hughes presented their findings to education department faculty with the goal of recruiting new students to continue the work.

Now, as the project winds down for the five seniors, the suggestions they put into motion are just beginning to gain momentum. Stephen King, their faculty advisor and a professor in the political science department, hopes other professors and students will step in to carry on the work.

“Undergraduate researchers at Taylor . . . can achieve great things,” King said. “But (with this) we can do something that’s going to move forward and (we’ll) be able to say, ‘We’re making inroads, we’re making an achievement, we’re doing something that is not just theoretical, but it has a practical application.’”

The five seniors began work after King received a research grant from the provost’s office. In January 2015, the grant money came in and King chose his interdisciplinary team, who began meeting during the spring semester to brainstorm ideas.

“When we started the project, we began by talking to the local community members about what policy issues were relevant that we could research,” Selle said. “What kept coming up was child poverty and the need for increased early childhood education opportunities.”

According to the group’s research, Grant County has the worst child poverty rate in the state at 33 percent. The students decided to focus on preschoolers and the quality and quantity of education in the area. They went in expecting to delve almost exclusively into data and research, but soon found themselves advocating on behalf of children in Grant County.

To this end, they partnered extensively with Marion’s Early Childhood Development Coalition (ECDC), as well as with community leaders.

Delving into different facets of their topic, the team discovered that Grant County already had a healthy community built around early childhood education. As they interviewed business leaders, local government officials, pre-K experts, preschool providers and church leadership, they realized that the problem wasn’t a lack of good ideas.

Community leaders simply weren’t talking to each other. Despite overlap in their goals to help preschoolers, they had never met face-to-face to discuss a partnership.

“We decided to make use of what resources we had, and the culmination of that work was that, at the end of the two months’ time, we had a round-table luncheon in the DC and we had 40 community members come out,” Richert said. “And they all finally, for the first time, got in the same room and talked about ideas.”

Besides facilitating discussion, the student researchers spent much of the summer compiling a 70-page document highlighting pre-K education.

“It talks a lot about the benefits of preschool, why it’s important economically and for health reasons, because the three-to-five age range is extremely vital development time,” Pfeifer said. “We outlined the framework . . . and included recommendations for Grant County on the next steps on what to do to collaborate on this issue.”

Their suggestions have already captured the attention of the community. Local newspapers covered the research, and the students presented their findings at Ivy Tech on Oct. 27. This week, their partners at the ECDC adopted their document as an outline for agenda items going forward.

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