In 2008, Eastern Connecticut State University's Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE) was awarded a three-year, $3.9 million Early Reading First (ERF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement the Community Partners for Early Literacy (CPEL) project. Eastern was one of only 31 agencies and public school districts throughout the United States to be chosen for "Early Reading First" grants out of nearly 400 applicants.
In partnership with the Windham Early Childhood Center (part of the Windham Public Schools) and the Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC) at Eastern, the CECE provided professional development and literacy coaching to 50 teachers and paraprofessionals and supported families in engaging in literacy activities at home.
The students worked as oral language assessors, classroom substitutes and literacy kit managers, and were considered critical to the project's success.
- Kyle Dunnack '09 M.S. of Mansfield Center, participated as an oral language assessor for the project.
- Kelly Anne Zimmermann '12 M.S. of Storrs/Mansfield, participated as a classroom substitute for the project.
Under the leadership of CECE Program Coordinator Julia DeLapp and Maureen Ruby and Ann Anderberg, assistant professors of education, the project worked to improve the language and literacy skills of nearly 600 preschool-age children in Willimantic/Windham through an intensive, bilingual, family-based language and literacy preschool intervention program - with impressive results. According to Anderberg, the project was designed with Windham's diverse community in mind. While Latino residents constituted 13 percent of the Connecticut population in the 2010 Census, the percentage of Latino residents in Willimantic is nearly 40 percent and the percentage of the school-aged population that is Latino exceeds 60 percent. Approximately 37 percent of the town's residents speak a language other than English in the home.
At the end of the study, the research showed positive results. Both the teachers and the paraprofessionals who participated in the project improved their literacy knowledge by more than 15 percent over the course of the project. In addition, the children made tremendous gains in their "receptive vocabulary," "rhyming" and "quality of book reading" - with Spanish-speaking students making the most gains. Such findings enabled the researchers to draw conclusions about lessons learned from the project that can be implemented in preschool classrooms throughout the state.