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PEER hosts fifth annual convening

October 30, 2019
by Joanna Meyer

On Thursday, October 24, the Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER) was pleased to host its fifth annual partnership meeting. The event took place at The Leir Retreat Center in Ridgefield, CT, and the theme was Aligning School and Family Assets to Promote Early Learning. The morning provided ample food for thought, beginning with opening remarks from Dr. Michael Strambler (Director of PEER).

PEER was excited to host keynote speaker Dr. Vivian L. Gadsden from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, where she is the William T. Carter Professor of Child Development and a Professor of Education. Dr. Gadsden is also Director of the National Center on Fathers and Families and past president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Her work focuses on learning trajectories from early childhood to adulthood and the active engagement of families as critical partners in their children’s education. Dr. Gadsden’s keynote address was entitled Building a Culture of Family Engagement: Drawing on the Strengths of Children, Parents and Families. Her remarks explored her research on family engagement, the role of culture, and how to partner effectively with families. Dr. Gadsden also offered a conceptual model describing how programs and schools can engage parents more effectively.

After the keynote address, George Coleman (Practitioner Lead for PEER) moderated a panel discussion on family engagement. Panel participants included Dr. Vivian Gadsden; Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) Commissioner Beth Bye; Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) Chief Operating Officer Charlene Russell-Tucker; and Bridgeport Public Schools (BPS) Director of Bilingual Education and World Languages Ana Sousa-Martins. Panel participants discussed the development of Connecticut’s Definition and Framework for Family Engagement and how this resource can inform the work of state agencies and school districts. The discussion also explored the desired outcomes for parent engagement efforts and how research can examine the effectiveness of parent engagement programs and practices. Finally, the panelists discussed how organizations can shift family engagement efforts from a deficit approach to an asset-based approach that capitalizes on the strengths families bring to supporting their children’s education.

To close the morning, Joanna Meyer (Co-Director of PEER) provided an update on PEER’s current projects. The dual language learners (DLL) study combines survey data and child data to examine the association of program practices with child and family outcomes. The Preschool Development Grant (PDG) evaluation is a collaboration with the OEC and SDE that uses state-wide data to examine kindergarten outcomes for children who attended preschool in PDG classrooms. Through the Maritime Odyssey Preschool evaluation, PEER has worked with local collaborators to examine their early STEM education model. These projects demonstrate the range of approaches that PEER uses to conduct collaborative, actionable research that can benefit early childhood stakeholders in Connecticut.

The afternoon session offered an opportunity for representatives from PEER member organizations to collaborate. As a group, participants read two summaries of successful research grant proposals and discussed the elements of a competitive proposal. Then participants divided into four discussion groups, each of which worked together to dig into potential grant proposal topics by defining research questions, exploring potential research designs, and describing how the project would benefit local partners and the education field more broadly. To close the day, Clare Irwin (Co-Director of PEER) guided the discussion groups to share some of the ideas that they had explored.

PEER’s mission is to collaborate with its partners to develop and produce research that can inform early childhood education policy and practice at the local and state levels, increase access to high-quality early childhood education, and reduce disparities in educational outcomes. Input from collaborating organizations is critical as PEER develops new research grant proposals, and PEER truly appreciates the active engagement of its partners in this process. PEER is also grateful for The Leir Center's generous support for this event.

Submitted by Joanna Meyer on October 30, 2019