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Last Modified: Monday, June 10, 2013

UNC-VGCC partnership cultivates high caliber teachers for young children

Jun. 10, 2013

Through a new partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, the early childhood education department at Vance-Granville Community College is offering a cutting-edge program for the next generation of teachers.

Tracey Bennett (pictured above), who has taught at VGCC for 10 years and now serves as department chair, is collaborating with FPG’s Supporting Change and Reform in Preservice Teaching in North Carolina (SCRIPT-NC). The project, led by Tracey West, SCRIPT-NC’s principal investigator, works with community colleges across North Carolina to better prepare early childhood educators to meet the needs of young children with disabilities and children who are culturally and linguistically diverse.

“It’s been a real eye opener,” says Bennett. “We had a good program already at Vance-Granville, but with SCRIPT-NC we realized what we really wanted to be.”

Not only did SCRIPT-NC help Bennett and her faculty enrich the content of their courses with the latest evidence-based research, the partnership also led her department to examine its role in the community. “We realized that programs in our area are serving a lot of young children whose families’ first language isn’t English—or they don’t speak English at all,” says Bennett. “These programs also serve children with different kinds of abilities.”

With the benefit of SCRIPT-NC’s expertise and evidence-based resources, Bennett and her colleagues have started revising some of VGCC’s education courses. Bennett’s new approach to a practicum class gives her students a deeper understanding of the material. “They’re learning to look at what’s best for each child developmentally now,” she says. “They can identify areas for growth, while looking at the whole cultural context.”

“One of SCRIPT-NC’s key objectives is to help future early childhood educators in North Carolina become more knowledgeable and comfortable working with young children from diverse backgrounds,” says Dale Epstein, who, along with Chih-Ing Lim, serves as co-principal investigator for the project.

SCRIPT-NC has roots in Crosswalks, an earlier FPG project that also prepared educators to work with culturally and linguistically diverse children and families. FPG scientist Camille Catlett, an investigator on the SCRIPT-NC team, has been the project’s primary liaison with Bennett. “In the last year and a half, Tracey already has taken a good program a long way toward being an extraordinary one,” says Catlett. 

Bennett anticipates a dramatic shift in how her department’s students will interact with children and families. “Instead of only addressing themes, new graduates will focus on each child’s particular needs, each classroom’s particular needs, and the families’ particular needs,” she says. “And on how they can really address those needs.”

Bennett believes her program is developing more reflective teachers. “They also understand that their learning doesn’t stop when they graduate from our program,” she says. “And they’ll be better equipped to give feedback to their peers in early childhood programs, too.”

Currently, SCRIPT-NC works intensively with four community colleges in the state. In addition, the FPG project offers online resources, including course-specific landing pads and widely viewed webinars that are open to all North Carolina community colleges.

Bennett advises other community colleges entering into a partnership with SCRIPT-NC to be prepared. “It’s definitely beneficial,” she says. “And there’s a whole mindset change involved. It’s a challenge.”


Note: this article was originally written by Dave Shaw of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

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