A $3.8 million grant to the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development will establish a national preschool Center of Excellence in the Catholic schools of Rochester. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Reading First program, the project is part of a national effort to transform preschools by raising the quality of the programs and giving more support and resources to teachers and parents.
The project builds on an earlier Warner initiative called ScienceStart!—a unique curriculum that capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity about the world around them and uses science as a vehicle to develop language, literacy, and school readiness skills among preschoolers.
The current Early Reading First project—a collaborative effort among the Warner School, the Department of Catholic Schools of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, and the Warner Center for Professional Development and Education Reform—calls for intensive support and professional development in 14 classrooms, serving 240 preschoolers from low-income families at four area schools in urban Rochester: St. Monica, St. Andrew, Holy Family, and Holy Rosary.
“This is an important opportunity to serve the local community and, at the same time, to advance knowledge about preschool education that ultimately may help to ensure the success of at-risk children across all of Rochester and the nation,” says University of Rochester President Thomas H. Jackson.
During the three-year project, the schools will serve as regional and national preschool model sites, demonstrating the power and potential that quality curriculum, professional development, and teacher support hold for educating young children, especially those most at risk for school failure.
“We are delighted to partner with the Warner School on this wonderful project,” said Sister Elizabeth Meegan, O.P, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese. “It is widely recognized that reading skills are essential to academic success. Our participation in this project brings us to the cutting edge of reading education, and the opportunity to work with the University of Rochester makes it that much more exciting.”
The partnership will create school-based learning communities for young children as active learners who are involved in building a strong knowledge base, acquiring language, and developing literacy skills through rich experiences in the classroom, the home, and the community. Activities will include professional development for teachers and administrators, in-class mentoring of teachers, and a family literacy initiative.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity here. Not only will we improve the outcomes for the children directly involved in this effort, but teachers will receive the kind of intense support and education that will transform their practice to affect thousands of children over their careers,” says Lucia French, associate professor at the Warner School and director of the project. “In addition, we will share what we learn and open these classrooms to the larger educational community, such that Rochester can lead the way for quality preschools nationwide.”
The ScienceStart! curriculum embraces science, and the cycle of inquiry that advances it, as an essential part of the preschool experience. Over the past three years, another ScienceStart! project, also funded by the U.S. Department of Education, worked locally with 30 programs, 98 teachers, 61 paraprofessionals, and 2,258 children and the provided more than $100,000 in books, supplies, and equipment to Rochester-area preschools.