The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith School of Education has earned a $1.8 million grant from the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education that will allow the university’s early childhood education (ECE) program to increase its free professional development offerings to Arkansas early childhood educators.

The grant, which awards the university $258,000 per-year over seven years, was written and submitted by Dr. Shelli Henehan and Ronnette Haynes. The pair received confirmation of the award in April, enabling the UAFS ECE program to become a curriculum, training, and resource center as of July 1, 2019.

A recent study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that children who attended high-quality early childhood education programs experienced medium and long-term educational benefits.

The meta-analysis of 22 high-quality studies conducted between 1960 and 2016 found that children who attended these ECE programs were significantly more likely to be retained in their grade and graduate from high school than peers who didn’t participate in such programs. According to the study, these results support ECE’s utility for reducing education-related expenditures and promoting child well-being.

“The School of Education faculty are committed to doing what is best for the children of Arkansas and to training the best educators for those children,” said Dr. Monica Riley, executive director of the UAFS School of Education. “We know that highly trained early childcare educators are the best defense against high school drop-out, juvenile incarceration, and illiteracy; and that success in school is dependent on success before school.”

“This grant allows us to meet the needs of early childhood educators across the state by providing them with needed and desired professional development opportunities,” Riley continued. “I am convinced that the work of Dr. Henehan, Ms. Haynes, Ms. Davis and the trainers will have a direct and lasting impact in our region and in our state.”

Understanding the importance of these critical ECE programs and the impact early childhood educators have on their students, Henehan and her colleagues outlined a detailed guide for training early childhood providers, developing curricula, navigating performance-based contracting, and assisting the child care development fund in the state of Arkansas.

Between the months of July, 2019-June, 2020, the UAFS Early Childhood, Preschool project will continue to provide early childhood trainings, and will enable UAFS faculty and staff to launch a curricula development project targeting training geared to the needs of the early childhood practitioners throughout the region. July 2020-June 2021, the focus will be on revising all of the existing KITS – In-House Training Guides, and extending the development of curricula guides paired with children’s books.

“We are so excited and honored to be able to deliver trainings that have been developed by Arkansas’ own Dot Brown, president of Early Childhood Services, Inc., and Beverly C. Wright, early childhood literacy instructor,” said Dr. Henehan, director of the UAFS Early Childhood Project. “We are looking forward to serving the educators of the birth-to-five population, providing them with the personalized attention of our UAFS trainers and our new coaching/outreach coordinator.”

Now nearly a full semester into the program, UAFS has offered 25 classes, with 307 participants completing courses.

Since 2005, the UAFS pre-k project has been tracking the successful delivery of courses by reporting on the completion rate of the attendees, which also articulates into the annual institutional Continuing Education Units report. In the grant-funded professional development trainings, all participants who have successfully completed the courses receive their CEUs, free of charge, from the UAFS institution. This sets educators up for success in their future academic goals and meets current professional development needs as well.

The UAFS trainers have also been asked to help in delivering courses outside of the region in underserved locations.

Dr. Kim Wolfe, the early childhood education program’s newest trainer, has expanded the university’s ECE footprint into the Arkansas delta region, in addition to geographic trainings held by the university’s 15 other certified trainers in Sebastian, Crawford, Logan, Franklin, Scott and Johnson counties.

Jeanine Marter with Countryview Preschool in Marion explained her deep gratitude for Dr. Wolfe’s training, especially in an area that is often over-looked for professional development opportunities. “I am so grateful to Dr. Kim Wolfe and UAFS for having workshops in our area. We routinely have had to drive to Wynne, Forrest City, Jonesboro, Little Rock, etc, with the cost of travel only adding to the frustration of trying to get 19 staff members their 15 hours of continuing education,” Marter explained. Often educators in smaller or more rural locations must resort to online trainings. “As thankful as I am for those online classes, staff certainly miss out on the relationship building, excitement and bonding that comes from personal, in person training. We would love to see more workshops in our area!”

Educators interested in the program may contact program coordinator Sheila Davis at 479-788-7249.