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Extension leads project for kids of military families

jbrehm2, March 10, 2011 | View original publication

Extension leads project for kids of military families

UNL Extension has been tapped by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop content and provide programming for a nationwide $7 million educational program that will help prepare the children of military families to be successful as they enter the school system.

The three-year project aims to develop and deliver early childhood professional development in 13 states, focusing on children, through age 12, from military families who live off base.

"Child-care services, education and support usually are well-established on military bases," said Tonia Durden, UNL Extension early childhood specialist. "However, families unconnected to bases may not have access to the same level of service and support."

Military families, including reservists and National Guard members, face unique challenges – frequent relocation; one or both parents deployed overseas; loss of income; and other stressors, Durden said. Their children can enter the school system behind their peers academically and socially because of these pressures.

The Child Care and Youth Training and Technical Assistance Project initially will focus on children from Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington. Total funding over three years is $7,045,226.

UNL Extension will work with counterparts at Pennsylvania State University to develop and deliver content for the project. Content will be delivered to early childhood educators both face-to-face and online. The online portion of the project will be delivered through Penn State's existing Better Kid Care Program. Local-level partnerships with Extension systems in each state will help identify target audiences and provide long-term sustainability.

"This is a genuine partnership among extension faculty and staff across the country," said Kathleen Lodl, assistant dean of UNL Extension. "The project exemplifies what Extension is all about – partnering with others to help people improve their lives."

Nine UNL Extension and four Penn State Extension educators will be assigned to this project, creating professional development for early childhood educators who serve military families in the 13 states. The project aims to strengthen the knowledge and practices of existing child-care providers as well as to increase the number of such practitioners so more military-family children will have access to the services, Durden said.

The first year will feature face-to-face professional development and special programs designed to educate those interested in starting a child-care business. More specific training, based in part on the individual states' needs, will be developed during the second year and a train-the-trainer approach will be developed in year three so the program can continue to be spread.

By the end of three years, it's expected that the skills of more than 28,000 child and youth development professionals will have been strengthened, increasing the quality of services provided to nearly 280,000 military children from newborn to age 12. Also, each participating state will have a uniquely designed training package that reflects its specific needs.

Elbert Dickey, dean and director of UNL Extension, said that while Nebraska is not one of the states initially targeted in the project, it will benefit from the professional-development packages to be developed.

"We expect the content being developed by our extension educators to have multiple uses. Here in Nebraska, we'll use it to train child-care providers and those serving in out-of-school programs. This fits directly with our goal of helping all children to be successful as they enter school," Dickey said.