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Written by Brian Novack

Willimantic, CT -  In August 2008, Eastern Connecticut State University's Center for Early Childhood Education received a three-year, $3.9 million U.S. Department of Education "Early Reading First" grant. The grant funds Eastern's Community Partners for Early Literacy (CPEL) program, which has helped approximately 700 preschool age children in Willimantic and given Eastern students important experiential learning opportunities.

"The intention of CPEL was to study preschooler's early literacy skill development with the implementation of scientific and evidence-based literacy programs," says Associate Professor Maureen Ruby, who, along with Assistant Professor Ann Anderberg, is the project's co-principal investigator. Ruby is a specialist in reading, learning disabilities and early literacy assessment. Ruby has served as a literacy facilitator for "Reading First" and as a research consultant for Yale University's Haskins Laboratory. Anderberg is a bilingual and bicultural education specialist and an experienced instructor of curriculum, English instruction, and linguistics and assessment for English language learners, and has held leadership positions in bilingual programs in the Windham School District.

The CPEL project has employed 32 Eastern undergraduate and graduate students from eight majors. The students work as early literacy assessors, classroom substitutes, and literacy kit managers, and are considered critical to the project's success.

"The Eastern students on the project learn how to work as professionals; they gain real-world experience that they often can apply to their university coursework," says CPEL project manager William Black. "Several Eastern students have mentioned that their CPEL job has given them insight into themselves, made them more confident, opened their eyes to the education profession and helped them see how early childhood education and psychology theories apply to the development of young children."

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Psychology major Christina Frugale '12 of Cheshire and early childhood education major Jessica Fontana '13 of Farmington both work in the CPEL program. As a bilingual assessor, Frugale administers literacy assessments in English and Spanish to preschoolers at the Child Family Development Resource Center and the Windham Early Childhood Center. Frugale is also one of four Eastern students who manage the weekly distribution of literacy kits containing a book, notebook, colored pencils and a reading guide to each child, expanding the children's home reading opportunities.

"As an assessor, there is nothing more rewarding than re-testing students in the spring and seeing them excel in each of the aspects taught in the class," says Frugale. "The CPEL program is important to me because I truly value education and believe that everyone should have an opportunity to receive an outstanding education."

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Fontana works as a bilingual assessor for the CPEL program, evaluating children's learning with a number of assessment tools. "I am an early childhood education major, and it is very interesting to see how these kids progress and learn over time," she says.

Federal "No Child Left Behind" legislation authorized the "Early Reading First Program" to improve the school readiness of young children, particularly those from low-income families. 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 2008.

For more information, contact Julia DeLapp, Center for Early Childhood Education, at (860) 465-0687.


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