Faculty trio awarded education grant for preschoolers
Carol Vukelich, left, Martha Buell, center, and Myae Han recently received a $3.7 million grant for Unlocking Doors to Enhance Language and Literature (UDELL), a program to improve language and reading skills among young children.
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8:36 a.m., Oct. 7, 2009----When it comes to pre-school teaching and learning, three University of Delaware faculty -- Carol Vukelich, director of the Center for Teacher Education and L. Sandra and Bruce L. Hammonds Professor in Teacher Education; Martha Buell, professor of human development and family studies; and Myae Han, assistant professor of human development and family studies -- are a dynamic trio and have been awarded three U.S. Department of Education grants totaling approximately $10 million since 2005.

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Most recently, they were awarded a $3.7 million grant for three years for Unlocking Doors to Enhance Language and Literature (UDELL), a program to improve young children's language and reading skills as they get ready for kindergarten and elementary school.

The grant was highly competitive with 600 institutions applying. The number was winnowed down to 127, with 28 proposals actually receiving funding, Vukelich said.

The three educators have a good track record. The follow-up evaluation of their last project, Delaware Early Reading First, with low-income children in Head Start, showed that their early language arts intervention worked, and the children in the program performed as well as or better than their peers in kindergarten and first grade.

The UDELL program will involve three preschools -- UD's Early Learning Center in Newark, the Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center and St. Michael's School and Nursery both in Wilmington. The schools are full-year and full-time from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and serve a diverse population that includes at-risk children who may be from low-income families, foster care or may have disabilities.

“These are very good schools, and our goal is to work with teachers to strengthen their reading and language programs even further so they may serve as models for other schools in the area. We are excited about this opportunity to work with these schools and with their teachers and staff,” Vukelich said.

“The program will implement scientifically-based strategies to encourage reading readiness that are research-based,” Han said.

The grant will provide for four coaches, who have master's degrees in early childhood teaching and literacy. Each site will have a coach to work with the teachers, and one coach will work one-on-one as an interventionist with children with special needs and build teachers' skills in this area. After the first year of the program, graduate students will have the opportunity to participate as tutors.

Funding will also be used for teaching materials such as games, puzzles, software, posters, displays and specially designed oversized books that teachers can use for a class and that preschoolers enjoy. “Books can be used so many ways to teach children,” Buell said. “Teachers can show pictures and ask what the children think may happen in the story, ask children to talk about the book in relation to their own lives, develop their comprehension and build concepts of letters, sounds and other skills.”

Another part of the program will be outreach, including workshops and materials for parents, advising them about what to expect when their children move to kindergarten, what the children need to know and how to help their children get ready for elementary school.

“We have found the parents are very interested in what is best for their child and what they can do at home,” Vukelich said.

The program uses a three tiered approach to instruction. The first tier involves all the children; the second tier is for children who are experiencing some difficulty and will profit from additional learning time in small groups; and the third tier is for those who require one-on-one instruction.

The children will be assessed twice yearly to see how they are progressing with vocabulary, letter names, sound awareness and other prereading skills. “We will try different strategies to meet each child's needs and to help them acquire the skills they need to succeed. These are crucial years, and helping young children by using different approaches that have been proven to work, can have a positive impact on their performance in school later,” Vukelich said.

“Our goal is to integrate these methods into the early reading and language framework in the three model schools and make other preschools aware of the UDELL program,” Vukelich said.

Article by Sue Moncure
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson