PEER was founded in 2014 to conduct rigorous, collaborative, actionable 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. As well as pursuing research that addresses topics from its collaborative research agenda, PEER is building its capacity to provide evaluation support for practitioner partners whose work relates to those topics.
One such partner is Maritime Odyssey Preschool, a Norwalk early learning program with a focus on marine science. Maritime Odyssey Preschool is a collaboration between The Maritime Aquarium, Odyssey Learning Inc., and Grace Baptist Church. Since opening its doors in August 2016 with 35 students, Maritime Odyssey Preschool has grown to serve 200 children between the ages of 14 months and 5 years, the majority of whom come from low-income households.
The founders of Maritime Odyssey Preschool believe that exposing young children to an aquarium-based STEM curriculum will promote engagement and learning across a range of domains, facilitate interpersonal skills, and involve parents in supporting their children’s growth. In working toward these goals, the organization wants to use data to help guide their decision-making as well as understanding the program’s effectiveness and areas for growth.
In the fall, Maritime Odyssey Preschool approached PEER about partnering to conduct an initial evaluation. According to Tom Naiman, Director of Education at The Maritime Aquarium, “We’re interested in understanding what early skills and experiences will prepare students for later success in STEM fields. The metrics don’t exist yet, so we’re excited to be working with PEER to develop a model for measuring early STEM learning that can serve our program and others.”
PEER and Maritime Odyssey Preschool have begun the progress of constructing a logic model, which includes examining what makes the program unique, how it aims to effect change for its students, and what outcomes will indicate that change is occurring. The next step will be to design a preliminary evaluation that can be used to study the program.
Another recent collaboration focused on communication across the kindergarten transition in Stamford. In spring 2017, Stamford Public Schools launched the Preschool-Kindergarten Transition Summary (PKTS), a profile that preschool teachers complete for each child at the end of the year to convey information to his or her kindergarten teacher. Beginning last summer, the Stamford Cradle to Career Kindergarten Readiness Community Action Network (CAN) has led the discussion about how to expand implementation of the PKTS form in the current school year.
As a member of this group, PEER worked with Stamford Public Schools to administer a survey this fall about how kindergarten teachers and elementary administrators used the PKTS data and how the process might be improved. The group spent most of its February meeting discussing the survey results and using them to inform its plan for the 2018 PKTS. As explained by Penny Lehman, Director of Program Services at Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County, “the survey was important to us as a Community Action Network because it helps us to think about how to move ahead effectively and efficiently with the Preschool-Kindergarten Transition Summary.”
As PEER expands its efforts in this new direction, it remains committed to conducting research that addresses the topics that were generated in the collaborative research agenda-setting process that began in 2015. For example, as part of its project on dual language learners, PEER launched a survey last week that targets parents, teachers and administrators at thirty early childhood education centers and elementary schools in Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford. Over the coming years, PEER plans to continue developing its capacity to engage and support early childhood stakeholders in two ways: by conducting rigorous, actionable research and by supporting its partners’ evaluation needs in a timely, focused manner. PEER is excited that early childhood education stakeholders are interested in additional opportunities for collaboration!