We are the Morgridge College of Education

Groundbreaking is not only a word to describe continued growth, it’s a word that describes the work being done here at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE). In the last two years, we added two new centers – the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center and the Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE). These centers built upon the success of our two existing institutes. In addition to the Marsico Institute and the Kennedy Institute, we launched ECHO-DU, a one-of-a-kind program that brings professional learning opportunities to rural Colorado communities. We introduced our new strategic plan with input from our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We also gained national attention and significant funding along the way.

We are doing groundbreaking work.

Ms. Taylor Costello leads her students in a Connect4Learning (C4L) activity, “Who’s behind the blanket?” at Fisher Early Learning Center, where C4L is a part of the existing pre-K curriculum.

In 2019, Drs. Julie Sarama and Doug Clements, co-directors of the Marsico Institute, advanced their research in early childhood curriculum, particularly in math. This past June, the two were awarded a $3,295,431 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to evaluate their pre-K curriculum, Connect4Learning (C4L) previously developed with National Science Foundation funding alongside fellow experts Drs. Nell Duke, Kim Brenneman, and Mary Louise Hemmeter.

C4L is a groundbreaking curriculum that prioritizes math and science in early childhood education. Until now, both subjects have been given little attention in pre-K curricula, with science being virtually non-existent. Sarama and Clements are focused on closing this gap through C4L, which draws on interdisciplinary connections between math, science, literacy, and social- emotional learning. Through their new IES project, Evaluating an Interdisciplinary Preschool Curriculum (EPIC), the pioneering team will make a big difference in our local schools, assessing the effectiveness of C4L among Colorado’s youngest learners.

We are developing the next generation of education leaders.

In July, Sarama, Clements, and their colleague Dr. Douglas Ready, received another grant totaling $4,575,683 from the National Science Foundation. The project is now known as Understanding Learning Trajectories in Math: Advancing Teacher Education (ULTIMATE), and is a powerful research collaboration between MCE and local schools. Despite the importance of early mathematics and of teachers facilitating its development, there are few evidence-based interventions available to support teachers. ULTIMATE aims to address this issue.

According to Sarama, “This funding from the National Science Foundation allows us to directly support teachers of early mathematics and hundreds of children they serve, while producing rigorous research that documents the power of teachers understanding children’s thinking, serving as a model for the rest of the nation.”

Over two decades, Sarama and Clements have built a professional development tool, called Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories, or [LT]2. The University of Denver team will work with teachers, blending hands-on professional development with teachers’ use of the [LT]2 tool. The study will research the positive impacts of supporting teachers in the classroom and how that subsequently improves students’ learning of math. 

We are collaborating nationwide to solve some of education’s most pressing issues.

In its initial year at MCE, the PELE Center focused on providing early childhood education professionals with the tools, strategies, and technical assistance needed to address some of education’s most pressing issues – inclusion of children with disabilities and early social-emotional development.

Dr. Phil Strain, director of PELE, and his team of experts, expanded their inclusive work across the country through a key partnership with the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thanks to a $16 million grant from the Office of Special Education Programs, the trailblazing team has produced the first ever set of high quality inclusion indicators for early childhood education in the U.S. These inclusion indicators are critical to improving and increasing inclusive programs for children with disabilities. In practice, they will be used to support state leaders, local administrators, and front-line personnel in early care and education systems providing programs and services to children and their families.

We are bringing more inclusive practices to education.

In 2019, PELE also continued its partnership with the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations at the University of South Florida. The Office of Special Education Programs generously awarded Strain and his team a $5 million grant across five years to focus on supporting early social-emotional development. Today, PELE is involved with 24 states to adopt, scale-up, and improve the Pyramid Model, which promotes social-emotional development among infants and children. The PELE team has partnered with Mathematica and Vanderbilt University to conduct two large randomized trials of the Pyramid Model that will focus on expansion to kindergarten and children with special needs.

Finally, since arriving at MCE, PELE has been awarded more than $500,000 in school district contracts to replicate the Learning Experiences: An Alternate Program for Preschoolers and Parents (LEAP), which is an inclusive model for young children with autism. To date, PELE has replicated LEAP in 150 classrooms across the country. LEAP has additionally been recognized by the National Academy of Science as one of only two evidence-based inclusion programs for children with autism.

We are expanding our efforts in rural communities.

The Center for Rural School Health & Education with members of the San Luis Valley Community Advisory Board (CAB) after a meeting in Alamosa, CO. From left to right: Shannon Allen, PhD; Antonio Sandoval (CAB Chair); Ann-Marie DeHerrera (CAB Member); Karen Riley, PhD; Virginia Drake (CRSHE Community Partner); Elaine Belansky, PhD; and Nick Cutforth, PhD.

Imagine happy, healthy children, and families living in vibrant rural communities. That is the vision of CRSHE, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in June.

CRSHE brings its vision to life by partnering with rural schools and communities in Colorado to achieve equitable health and education outcomes. With most of its work happening face-to-face and in schools, CRSHE has deep roots and relationships in the San Luis Valley and southeastern Colorado.

Thanks to a highly committed team and the leadership of Dr. Elaine Belansky, director of CRSHE, the center achieved tremendous growth in 2019. With $2 million in new projects, CRSHE focused on its three key areas: comprehensive school health and wellness, social-emotional health, and workforce development for professionals working with children and families. Recently, CRSHE added a fourth focus area to create economic opportunities for rural residents.

Belansky and her team also launched ECHO-DU, a virtual, professional development platform built specifically for school professionals in rural Colorado school districts. The team also provided grant writing assistance to 27 rural school districts, and facilitated 11 presentations and conferences across the state.

Additionally, the center provided training and professional development to establish comprehensive school health and wellness plans in 29 rural school districts. To ensure the community’s priorities, values, and perspectives are reflected in these research projects and initiatives, the team assembled a San Luis Valley Community Advisory Board (CAB). As the center continues to grow, Belansky and her team will work on adding more CABs to other regions in the state. 

MCE is opening doors to bold opportunities to serve its students and community with a unified goal of improving the human condition.

Over the next five years, the college will extend its impact in the field of education where it already excels, elevate areas with momentum, and identify new priority areas with community partners.

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