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Community Engagement Faculty and Staff Features HDFS

It takes a village to raise a child, but who supports the village?

We do. Researchers support children, families and educators across Oregon.

The Early Learning System Initiative (ELSI) team supports Oregon’s early education professionals who care for and educate children from historically marginalized populations.

By Hanna Knowles

In 2021–22 the Hallie Ford Center pulled in more than $30 million of new funding to bolster its ability to address the needs of Oregon’s early childhood educators and children.  

Supporting early childhood educators

A $14.4 million grant from Oregon’s Early Learning Division established a statewide initiative focused on strengthening the early childhood education workforce in Oregon.  

The Early Learning System Initiative (ELSI), housed in the HFC, provides support and training from an anti-bias, culturally responsive lens to better equip educators who care for children from marginalized populations and for children who have experienced trauma.  

“Many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased attention to the challenges facing the early childhood education workforce. There’s high turnover, low wages and a lack of opportunity for professional development and advancement,” says Megan McClelland, director of the HFC and principal investigator on the grant. “I think the state has really recognized the need to increase support for Oregon’s diverse field of early childhood educators in both home- and center-based programs.”  

Rather than teaching educators directly, the center will focus on a “train the trainers” framework, providing mentorship and resources for coaches around the state to share with early childhood educators within their communities. 

Megan says Oregon educators have communicated they don’t have enough training in how to meet the needs of children from marginalized populations and children who have been exposed to trauma. They also said they need more training in how to prevent preschool expulsion.  

In Oregon, a 2020 statewide household survey found that 6.3% of all children were asked to leave their childcare programs, with higher rates among children of color and children with disabilities.  

“We want to support the early education workforce in ways that reduce stress and burnout, so they are more effective educators,” says Megan.

OSU faculty members Megan Pratt, Shauna Tominey, Bridget Hatfield and Shannon Lipscomb are ELSI co-leaders. 

Protecting the health of Oregon children

A new research center, also housed within the HFC, was formed thanks to a nearly $5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. 

The Oregon State University Center for Advancing Science, Practice, Programming and Policy in Research Translation for Children’s Environmental Health (ASP3IRE) helps researchers collaborate with clinical and public health care practitioners, OSU Extension programs and early learning centers around the state to turn evidence-based interventions into policies and programs so they can be easily accessed by families and early learning institutions. 

“We know a lot about how environmental stressors can negatively affect children’s health. The purpose of this grant is to translate that research into programs and practice that can reduce children’s exposure to harmful environmental factors and improve their health and well-being,” says Professor Molly Kile, principal investigator on the project. 

Two examples include teaching families how to address conditions within the home that can trigger asthma, as well as how to limit the impact of seasonal wildfire smoke exposure. 

The grant enables OSU to increase trainings it already offers educators on how to protect children from known neurotoxicants such as lead paint and chemicals, which are harmful to children’s early learning and executive function skills, including self-regulation. 

The grant also includes funding for pilot projects to test various interventions for other environmental health risks. 

Along with Molly and Megan, the ASP3IRE team includes Allison Myers, director of the OSU Center for Health Innovation; Megan MacDonald, associate professor of kinesiology; Veronica Irvin, associate professor of health promotion and health behavior; and Perry Hystad, associate professor of environmental and occupational health. 

Partnering to support parents

The Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative, led by Shauna Tominey, is also housed in the HFC and is composed of CPHHS and HFC faculty experts. OPEC is present in all 36 counties and is a statewide leader for parenting education and parenting educator professional development.  

An ongoing partnership with the Oregon Department of Human Services ($3 million/biennium) provides parenting education programs for families with older children and teens in partnership with OPEC hubs. 

A partnership with Oregon’s Early Learning Division ($4 million/biennium) provides parenting education programs for families with young children ages 0-6, and a new initiative focused on parent leadership development.  

OPEC’s website is full of resources for parenting education professionals, parents and families.