University of Rochester

Warner School Alumna Wins National Research Grant

July 8, 2002

Catherine Compton-Lilly, a first-grade teacher and reading specialist in the Rochester City School District, has received a $50,000 grant to study literacy in urban families. A select group of 29 educators were chosen nationwide as National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows for 2002-03.

Compton-Lilly earned her doctorate in education in 1999 from the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester. Spencer grants are awarded to those who are exceptional researchers in the field.

For 15 years, Compton-Lilly has been a classroom teacher in the City School District. Her earlier research on children and reading, titled Reading Families: The Literate Lives of Urban Children, will be published this fall. For that study, she identified a group of first-grade students and their parents. Since then, she has returned to interview them in fourth grade. She found that most of these students enjoyed going to school, "but they were very removed from the academics," she said. "I'm trying to figure out why."

This time, she'll take the opposite approach. She plans to select 10 parents at a local adult learning center and observe how reading fits into their lives and the lives of their children.

Thus far, her research has dispelled assumptions that low-income, urban children aren't encouraged to read or study at home. "Based on my first research, parents had high hopes and aspirations for their children and themselves. Often they had gone back to school, and education was very important to them," Compton-Lilly said.

In the last few years, she has been involved in other research opportunities. She and three colleagues at School 20 attracted a $10,000 grant to develop a school awareness program on the dangers of lead poisoning. Last November, she traveled to Japan to promote intercultural understanding as part of a Fulbright program for teachers.