Expecting change and quickly being able to pivot has become part of life during the pandemic. Among the many challenges facing mental health and education providers is distance learning and assessment. Rising to the challenge is Dr. Jeanine Coleman, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education. Coleman, along with Morgridge College Professor Emerita, Dr. Toni Linder, and Colorado Department of Education Child Find Specialist Dr. Christopher Miller, published updated guidelines for online play-based assessments to allow specialists to continue to serve families and children in need.

The existing Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) measures four critical developmental domains—sensorimotor, emotional and social, communication, and cognitive—through observation of the child’s play with family members, peers, and professionals. As data shows, early intervention is especially important from birth to age three to help infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays to learn many key skills and catch up in their development. Stopping these assessments because of COVID-19 is not an option, because children need all of the help they can get during this crucial time of their life.

Their publication, Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) Online Guidance, outlines a set of guidelines for how to use TPBA2 online. As the publication notes, “The TPBA2 process has always involved an adult playing with a child while professionals observe the engagement and interaction. Parent–child play is part of that process, and a video of the session is recommended for the team to review. Moving to an online system, where the team is not physically present, requires some interesting modifications.”

These modifications include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines, how to support parents so they can use the video platforms, preparing for the online play session, and virtual family involvement.

According to one local Child Find Coordinator, “We have done five TPBAs remotely so far and they have gone well with family coaching.”

Though not perfect, the team published their adapted guidelines and are asking for feedback. As the process evolves, it is important to refine their publication to meet the needs of the community.

Already one school psychologist out of California has asked for a set of guidelines in Spanish, but also noted her appreciation of the project.

“Thank you for supporting educators in the special education realm with your TPBA2 virtual assessment and webinar,” she wrote. “It was very helpful and provided a clear direction on how to implement and go about the process logistically. We are going to be maximizing the opportunity to implement it in our early education program.”

In the Spring of 2018, before Dr. Phil Strain and his team from the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center made their official move to the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education, Strain collaborated with Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley, and Dr. Elaine Belanksy, director of the Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE), on a pilot virtual learning series focused on early childhood education through the newly launched ECHO-DU, a hub-and-spoke model of distance learning with a home base inside Morgridge College. The three leaders, in addition to Hema Visweswaraiah, Director at Morgridge’s Fisher Early Learning Center, put together a proposal for Constellation Philanthropy, a community of individual funders working together to increase philanthropic investment in early childhood development in Colorado.

The proposal outlined a pilot project to increase the capacity of early childhood educators in underserved communities in order to provide inclusive educational opportunities for all children. According to the literature, the primary barrier to inclusion is not developmental status or cognitive or physical challenges, but rather problem behavior. Through this ECHO-DU series, educators and therapists would learn the tools to manage problem behaviors in their classrooms and create an atmosphere where children with special needs can learn with their typically developing peers. The Morgridge College team, led by Strain, would begin by teaching the Strain-authored Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children (PTRYC) method. Internally, Morgridge College would leverage the connections of Belansky in rural Colorado, its existing urban partnerships to ensure this information would be widely available to communities who need it, and the invaluable daily lived experiences of the staff from the Fisher Early Learning Center.

Through relationships, research, and reporting, Constellation Philanthropy helps donors invest wisely so all of Colorado’s children can have a great start in life. Kate Kennedy Reinemund, Executive Director of Constellation Philanthropy, was already aware of Morgridge College’s work in this arena through her personal connection to Fisher. She was blown away when Riley came to talk to her about this project.

“When Karen came to talk to us about this proposal, she had an energy that was contagious,” Reinemund recalled. “We were so impressed with the use of new technology to reach students and families who would otherwise go without.”

Other funders to Constellation, including the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, Piton Foundation, Zoma Foundation, and many individuals, felt the same. They decided to fund the very first ECHO at the University of Denver. ECHO-DU is unique, because while most ECHO sites across the world focus on healthcare, ECHO-DU is one of a few focused on the P-20 education system. ECHO-DU participants collaborate with other educators in a case-based learning environment in order to learn about evidence-based practices and develop advanced skills related to mental health, school health-wellness, and school leadership. This pilot project would set the bar for other ECHO-DU projects and address a key finding of the Colorado Early Workforce Survey 2017, by helping teachers build the skills to meet the care and learning needs of children with special needs and challenging behaviors in order to increase the opportunities for inclusion for all children across the state.

The project launched with two ECHO-DU cohorts in the Spring of 2019. The cohorts totaled 35 participants, and each participant had direct contact with 20-25 children, for a total of 700-875 children impacted by the pilot. Additionally, participants became “specialists” in PTRYC and are now able to serve as a resource for the other teachers and children in his or her center or school, potentially impacting hundreds of additional children. The program served to build capacity, which is the vision of Project ECHO globally.

The use of ECHO-DU created a network of practitioners, especially in rural areas, who are now able to use a child and family-centered approach that, with continued implementation, could adequately support both the short and long term social and emotional outcomes of young children and inclusion. Participants were hungry for information and extremely engaged both between and within sessions; for many participants, this was their first exposure to PTRYC or to any evidence-based process for reducing challenging behavior.

“We [Constellation] look for what we call the ‘stickiness factor’,” said Reinemund. “We want to fund evidence-based, high quality programs with scalability. We love how DU takes resources and sees how they can get into the community with maximum potential.”

Strain agrees with Reinmund on the importance of the stickiness factor.

“In the course of my 45-year career I have had the good fortune to hold faculty positions in Schools of Medicine and Education,” he said. “One thing that both fields have in common is a gross disparity between known evidence-based practices and the use of these practices in typical settings.”

According to Strain, the time between vital information appearing in a journal and its appearance in everyday practice can approach two decades. He identifies this lag time as a waste of resources, depriving clients of the most effective services and disproportionately discriminating against the already underserved.

“ECHO-DU is perhaps the most effective antidote to this problem that we have,” he said. “This initial trial, generously supported by Constellation, provided invaluable data about how ECHO-DU can be utilized in the delivery of a very complex behavioral intervention for extreme problem behaviors in young children.”

As a result of the pilot, the PELE Center has adapted all of its distance training and coaching efforts to reflect ECHO-DU learnings.

“The impact of the initial gift from Constellation Philanthropy cannot be overstated,” said Riley.  “It not only successfully funded this program, which will benefit hundreds of children with special needs and their families, it launched ECHO-DU and serves as an exemplar for how this technology, which was originally designed for use in medicine, can advance evidence based practices in education and other fields.”

Nancy O’Sullivan, ECHO-DU Program Manager, says it was because of Constellation’s generosity that Morgridge College was able to build much of the ECHO-DU infrastructure.

“The experience and knowledge we gained were used to successfully launch three more ECHO series within six months after finishing the PTRYC pilot,” O’Sullivan said.

Those ECHO series were: Behavioral Health Solutions for Rural Schools (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 68 registered participants; Empathy and Social Emotional Learning (mindSpark & ECHO-DU), with 75 registered participants; and Wellness Coordinators Make It Happen (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 23 registered participants.

According to O’Sullivan, “Based on our initial pilots and continued success in the virtual professional development space, we have many other groups interested in using ECHO-DU to build capacity in their region.”

Clearly, the ECHO in ECHO-DU is making an impact.

“I am so grateful to Kate Reinemund and her staff as well as all of the Constellation Philanthropy partners for their support,” Riley added. “This was a new project and their sponsorship and vision have allowed this to become a reality, resulting in lasting impact for our community for years to come.”

The Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy in the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education was recently awarded the Central Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) along with four other partners, led by Marzano Research Laboratory. The award for $181,000 spans the next year with opportunities for additional funding over the next five years.

The REL program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and serves the United States through ten designated regions. Each REL supports state and local agencies in its region and provides technical assistance, research assistance, and resources to introduce best and proven practices into the nation’s schools. Specifically, REL Central supports these efforts in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Marsico’s focus for this year will be on early childhood education in rural areas. Although Marsico resides in an urban setting at the Morgridge College of Education, the Institute and College are committed to educational equality across the age span and across the region. This includes a focus on the children and families that reside in the region’s rural communities. Across all levels of the College, researchers are pioneering innovative solutions to ensure that rural school districts have access to the best practices and resources in the field. Additionally, faculty are collaborating with rural school districts to improve student outcomes in areas ranging from early learning, to physical activity, to college access.

Led by Dr. Douglas Clements and Dr. Julie Sarama, who are national experts in the field of early childhood education, Marsico identifies the best in early learning research, practice and policy and delivers this information to academics, practitioners, policymakers, and parents.

“We connect with the people who can create and implement changes to improve the lives of young children,” said Sarama.

Dr. Carrie Germeroth, assistant director of research at Marsico, has previously worked with several states involved with REL Central and said, “Being awarded the Central REL will allow us to further our reach with communities who may otherwise not have access to these resources. Everyone at Marsico is thrilled to work with Marzano Research Laboratory to enact change and bring education to everyone.”

Morgridge College of Education Dean Karen Riley, is delighted to see the Institute continue to grow and believes being awarded REL Central highlights the great work being done by the entire College regarding education expansion to rural areas.

“We have several programs within Morgridge that allow us to work with educators in rural districts,” said Riley. “From our top-ranked educational leadership program to teacher preparation and piloting new approaches to distance learning, we are committed to working with rural partners across the region. For the University, being awarded the Central REL shows our dedication to the community beyond its campus borders and allows us to live up to our pledge to be a great, private University dedicated to the public good.”

MCE’s Drs. Doug Clements and Julie Sarama, have been awarded a $3.5 million grant to study learning trajectories in early childhood mathematics instruction. Drs. Clements and Sarama, both Kennedy Endowed Chairs at the Kennedy Institute for Educational Success, have been funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences for their research. The project, which evaluates the effect of learning trajectories used in early childhood mathematics instruction, looks specifically at whether learning trajectories are better than other approaches in the support of young children’s learning.

Drs. Sarama and Clements will be working with colleagues Art Baroody and David Purpura, conducting research out of the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy and the Kennedy Institute. By conducting eight experiments in local schools, they will investigate the efficacy of learning trajectories. Their results will impact the ways in which learning trajectories are used across a variety of subject fields, but the implications for mathematics is particularly important. Mathematics is a strong predictor of later school success in mathematics, but also for overall school achievement, graduation, and even college entry.

Morgridge College of Education faculty member, Dr. Douglas Clements, sat down with NPR Morning Edition to discuss Why Math Might be the Secret to School Success. Across the country, enhancing the education of young children has been a major area of focus from academia to politics. This podcast focuses on Building Blocks, a math curriculum developed by Dr. Clements and Dr. Julie Sarama.Currently, in New York City, a $25 million study is collecting evidence on ways to effectively raise educational outcomes for children in poverty. Building Blocks is one math curriculum being tested in the study. Dr. Clements and Dr. Sarama believe that math may be key to increasing educational outcomes.

The NPR Morning Edition podcast was released a day prior to the December 10, 2014, White House Summit on Early Childhood Education. Morgridge faculty are at the forefront of the conversation of early childhood learning. Their work is pushing the envelope on how teachers engage and promote educational outcomes for future generations.


Copyright © 2018 University of Denver. | All rights reserved. | The University of Denver is an equal opportunity affirmative action institution
X