A donation from Charlotte philanthropist Charlie Elberson is allowing Cato College of Education researchers to take a closer look at the strategies of an east Charlotte child care center with a history of success in early literacy and pre-K preparation.
Castles Daycare Academy is a fixture in the primarily lower-income African-American Oak Forest neighborhood, where it serves children ages two to 12. For the last 30 years, it has provided high-quality, language-rich, print-rich child care and preschool services for children in the community.
The $42,500 gift from Elberson’s Reemprise Fund, which operates out of the Foundation For The Carolinas, will pay for a study to understand the academic outcomes of the learning strategies at the center, as well why those strategies are so effective. Researchers will compare academic achievement of children who attended Castles to a similar group of children who did not attend.
The study will include thorough assessments of the children entering the child care center and will follow them for a year, tracking how they learn and develop. Researchers will document the instructional practices, videotape the teaching and learning, and interview teachers, families and children at the center.
According to its director, Cynthia Knight, Castles’ success boils down to one thing:
"Inspiration. You have to inspire children to learn and ignite them with the power to top tap into their creativity and express their thoughts,” she said. “Once children are confident and armed with words they learn that nothing is out of their reach, including achieving higher reading levels. We have to help them understand that they are reading for knowledge and that this knowledge they acquire makes them powerful."
While data and analysis will be the end result of the study, it was the atmosphere of the center that led Cato College of Education researchers to propose it.
“You walk in, and the cozy space is full of kids and adults who sing, chant, clap and stomp their way around words, poems, and stories developed by the director,” said Ellen McIntyre, Dean of the Cato College of Education, “The center holds high expectations for all the children and begins to teach children to read as soon as they walk in the door at two years of age, and many of those children learn to read prior to entering kindergarten. We want to explore their approach and understand why it works so well.”
Better understanding what works and what doesn’t in education is central to Reemprise’s approach, according to Elberson.
“Reemprise is based on my father’s vision (his initials, REE, are where we get the name),” Elberson, the philanthropist, said. “[My father] frequently said, ‘We become what we measure.’ Any initiative important enough to invest in and work toward is important enough to measure.”
Elberson, who has donated more than $110,000 for early literacy research and programming in the Charlotte area, said he is inspired by organizations that find solutions in an environment where many focus on challenges.
“They have a clear definition of what success looks like. They’ve applied experience, intelligence and resources to create it,” he noted. “It’s anything but simple. But by partnering with Dean McIntyre and her team at the Cato College of Education, we can learn from the center’s teachers and learners. It makes me confident the remarkable successes they have achieved can become widespread.”
The research team includes Dean McIntyre, Amy Hawn Nelson, director of UNC Charlotte’s Institute for Social Capital; Cynthia Baughn, assistant professor of early childhood education; and a research assistant.
Long-term, the researchers hope to use their finding to contribute to Read Charlotte’s goal of doubling the number of third graders reading on grade level by 2025, work with County Manager Dena Diorio and the Board of County Commissioners to use the results to shape new Pre-K programs, and inform teacher preparation programs at UNC Charlotte.
The study will run until the summer of 2017.