Largest research award in OSU-Cascades history focuses on preschool children

July 1, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Oregon State University-Cascades researcher Shannon Lipscomb a $1.5 million grant to develop and test a program to help teachers improve the school readiness of preschoolers who have been exposed to trauma.

The four-year grant from the Office of Early Learning is the largest award ever for OSU-Cascades, the OSU branch campus in Central Oregon.  A priority of the U.S. Department of Education is to enhance learning and development for children with high needs through early learning programs.

“Research shows the importance of high quality early learning experiences for children's later success not only in school but also in other key aspects of life such as avoiding criminal behavior,” said Lipscomb, an assistant professor in the human development and family science program.  “Quality early learning may be even more important for the approximate five million children in the U.S. who experience trauma each year. They tend to have more difficulties in school, including behavioral and academic problems, and school drop-out. Giving preschool teachers effective strategies to help these young children could significantly change the course of children’s lives.”

Lipscomb, affiliated with OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, is an expert on early childhood development. She focuses on preschool and early child care experiences, and how those early social experiences help children prepare for success in life. Her work focuses on children from at-risk backgrounds including children from low-income families, those with genetic risk for behavioral problems, and those exposed to trauma.  Trauma can be a result of child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, parent mental illness, parent substance abuse, homelessness or parent incarceration.

The research project will focus on teachers in Head Start, child care and preschool programs in Central Oregon.  Head Start is a federally funded program focused on school readiness for children and families living in poverty. Over 500 children in Central Oregon attend Head Start each year and thousands attend other early learning programs. Selected teachers will engage in online classes to gain knowledge about childhood trauma and how to promote learning and development in children exposed to trauma. Regular video coaching sessions will help teachers take their understanding and incorporate it into practices in the classroom with children.

A benefit to the online and video implementation is its ability to reach teachers in rural areas, where professional development programs may not be available.

Both the teachers and children will be assessed regularly to determine how well the program helps to improve teacher’s knowledge and readiness, and the children’s functioning, stress, and classroom engagement.   The project will run through 2019. After this program is developed and tested here in Central Oregon Lipscomb's team hopes to make it available to early childhood teachers throughout the country.

Partners in the grant include the University of Oregon, the University of Southern Maine, NeighborImpact, The Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon, Trauma Informed Oregon, Oregon Center for Career Development in Childhood Care and Education, and Chastain & Associates, LLC.

The grant includes funding for two staff researchers, who will begin work in September. Undergraduate and graduate student workers and volunteers will also participate in the research, assisting faculty in developing the program and collecting data to evaluate it. 

Human development and family sciences is one of the largest degree programs at OSU-Cascades.  Students and faculty in the program study how people of all ages develop within the context of families, schools, work, communities and other social-cultural environments. Graduates work in services sectors including education, non-profits, counseling, health care and government agencies.  

About OSU-Cascades: Located in Bend, Ore., Oregon State University’s branch campus features outstanding faculty in degree programs that reflect Central Oregon’s vibrant economy and abundant natural resources. Eighteen undergraduate majors, 30 minors and options, and three graduate programs include computer science, energy systems engineering, exercise and sport science, hospitality management, and tourism and outdoor leadership. The branch campus will expand to a four-year university beginning fall 2015.