Research-based program enhances impact of Head Start on school skills

University Park, Pa. -- Head Start, the federal program that provides comprehensive services to low-income children and their families, has had a positive effect on some aspects of school readiness, but not others. A new Penn State study shows that a program designed to make it easier to integrate research into the classroom by giving teachers enrichment manuals helped children in both academic and social-emotional areas.

The program, called REDI (for research-based, developmentally informed), was developed and implemented in partnership with Head Start programs in Pennsylvania by researchers at Penn State. An evaluation of the study appears in the November/December 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.

Designed to be integrated into existing Head Start programs, REDI featured a research-based curriculum to foster social-emotional learning and enhance language and emergent literacy skills through interactive reading, sound games, and print center activities. In addition, the program offered teachers professional development support, including workshop training and mentoring, to enhance the quality of language use and social-emotional support in the classroom.

Each week, children took home stickers and handouts to keep parents informed of the topics covered at school. Parents also received videotapes with tips on how they could support the program at home.

The researchers evaluated REDI by following 356 children in 44 Head Start classrooms over the course of a year, some of whom were in classrooms in which REDI was used, some of whom were not. They interviewed parents and children, collected ratings from teachers, and observed children in the classroom.

The study found positive effects in academic and social-emotional areas: Compared with children who were in regular Head Start classrooms, children in REDI classrooms showed greater growth in vocabulary, pre-reading skills, emotional understanding, social problem solving, social competence, and learning engagement. In addition, children in REDI classrooms were less aggressive than children in other Head Start classrooms.

"The results of the REDI program validate the strategy of enriching current Head Start programs with emerging research-based curriculum materials and teaching strategies," says lead author Karen L. Bierman, distinguished professor of psychology in Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts.

"Given the limited number of hours in the school day, teachers sometimes feel that they must choose between focusing on the cognitive skills or the social-emotional needs of socio-economically disadvantaged students," she adds. "These findings demonstrate that a dual-focus, integrated intervention model can effectively and simultaneously promote gains in both academic and social-emotional domains of school readiness."

Other researchers in the study are Celene Domitrovich, Robert Nix, Scott Gest, Janet Welsh, Mark Greenberg, faculty or research associates in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development; Keith Nelson, professor of psychology, College of the Liberal Arts; Sukhdeep Gill, assistant professor of human development and family studies, Penn State York; and Clancy Blair, formerly with Penn State and now at New York University.

Their article, "Promoting Academic and Social-Emotional School Readiness: The Head Start REDI Program," is in the current issue of the journal, (Vol. 79, Issue 6).

The study was funded by the Inter-agency School Readiness Consortium, which includes the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Administration for Children and Families and the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation within the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services of the U.S. Department of Education.

Courtesy of the Society for Research in Child Development

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Last Updated April 05, 2010