When parents enroll their children here, it's a given that they want to participate in research," Grimmer says. "They're willing to have their child interviewed or observed. And we only choose research that benefits children."
The school releases an annual research update so parents can see the results of studies in which their children participated. "As a researcher, I have to justify why I'm doing the research," Grimmer says. "And sometimes I stop and say, 'Who cares? What does this mean for families and children?' The report is a way to say, this is what matters."
Preece says she and her husband did some research of their own before enrolling Tanner at Bernice Wright. "We did our homework to find out exactly what kind of research was done there, how our children were going to be involved, things like that. We were glad to help." One benefit of the school's research component is the portfolio teachers keep of each child's work throughout the year, she says. "At the end of the year you have an idea of how your child developed over time. The teachers are actually watching the development of the children and they're able to report that to the parents. I like that. I definitely feel I'm not just dropping my child off to be baby-sat."
Clawson has supervised a number of research projects at the school over the last three years. "In all of them, graduate and undergraduate students served as research assistants and had the opportunity to co-author presentations for professional conferences and publications," she says. "A number of unique questions can be addressed because the lab school serves such a diverse population, including children with disabilities and children for whom English is a second language."
Child and family studies students observe classrooms through mirrored-glass windows. Microphones allow them to hear children and teachers interact.
In a few recent research projects:
Clawson says current research projects at the school involve assessing students' teaching experiences through in-depth interviews with them, and extending the expertise available in the model environment of Bernice Wright to child care and preschool centers in the community.
- Clawson and doctoral student Kathleen Bigsby '89 examined processes occurring in families of preschool children and compared families of children with and without special needs.
- Grimmer and fellow master's degree student Tara Vaccaro compared Bernice Wright with nonprofit and for-profit community settings and found the school far exceeded others in terms of quality care provided to young children.
- Doctoral student Meera Shin and master's degree student Jungsun Hyun examined how children's interactions with teachers differ by age, gender, and native language.
EDUCATION FOR EVERYONE
The school has long been committed to fully including children with special needs, Grimmer says. For three years, the Jowonio School has placed a team from its Educational Network and Resources for Inclusion in Community and Home (ENRICH) program at Bernice Wright. Jowonio, which means "to set free" in the language of the Onondaga, is a private, nonprofit preschool program that has operated in Syracuse for 30 years. Jowonio School, on Bassett Street near Thornden Park, has eight preschool classrooms where 100 typical children and 60 children with disabilities learn side by side.
The ENRICH program brings Jowonio's services into other parts of the community. Its team includes a special education teacher, a speech language pathologist, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist. At Bernice Wright, they work with eight children with special needs who participate in classes with typical children. "Some have speech and language delays, some have developmental delays in their socialization and play skills, and some have physical disabilities," says Linda Karmen, former Jowonio ENRICH coordinator. "We're addressing needs across a wide range of development."
The school offers a strong, positive experience for these children, says Karmen, now co-coordinator of the Onondaga County Health Department Division of Special Children Services. "Bernice Wright is set up as a child-directed environment that really values children as individuals. The school emphasizes the ability of children to learn and explore on their own through play. That's something we want children with special needs to experience with children their own age."
Laura sings a song while enjoying a snack.
This inclusion plays a valuable role on several levels, Karmen says. "It's important for children to be among their peers. Especially during the preschool years, children learn best through play with other children. They interact better with other children and model the behavior of other children. They learn to communicate better by having those language models around them.