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Grant allows MMI to expand executive function program

Image with caption: Jolene Johnson, Ed.D.

Jolene Johnson, Ed.D.

Jolene Johnson, Ed.D., is the principal investigator on a $1.68 million grant awarded to the Munroe-Meyer Institute's Department of Education and Child Development by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

The three-year grant focuses on development and implementation of social emotional and executive functioning programming in high-quality early childhood sites across the United States. Thirteen Educare sites will participate in training, curriculum development and small research projects during the three years. In addition, a partnership with the University of Miami will embed executive functioning into science curriculum for students ages 0-5.

The grant is the second Dr. Johnson and her team have received. An initial Buffett Early Childhood grant enabled them to focus on developing executive function in five Educare sites, four in Nebraska and one in New Orleans.

"We had to re-apply, and they are looking to see if we can generalize the findings and expand the activity of the first grant," Dr. Johnson said. "There has been a lot of emphasis lately on social emotional learning and executive functioning in schools. This is a build-up -- can we reach more students in that birth to 5 age range and give them those skills before they go to school?"

Grant activities began in December, with 13 sites -- including the original five -- identified, including sites in Maine, Washington, Oklahoma and Florida.

"The goals for this round are that every site will implement some sort of social emotional framework in their center, and within that framework, they'll build in strategies for mindfulness and for building executive function skills."

Executive function includes cognitive regulation -- working memory, ability to follow directions -- self-regulation and emotional regulation, where the child can regulate their behavior and emotions.

"We're going to put together an executive function integration piece, so that teachers will know how to integrate executive function into their curriculum.

"The social emotional framework is a framework for how the center of the classroom is going to operate and includes expectations, how they are going to build relationships, and the type of language they're going to use with children."

The goals include:

  • Implementing frameworks with fidelity in the centers.
  • Enhancing teachers' skills in teaching executive functioning and integrating social emotional skills throughout the day.
  • Improving students' social emotional skills and executive function skills.
  • Having students more ready for school when they leave the Educare program.

Sites will have flexibility to develop their own interventions with students.

"There are a lot of partnerships that are happening locally," Dr. Johnson said. "New Orleans is doing a program called 'Peaceful Warriors,' which is trauma-informed yoga. So each site has some flexibility within the grant to meet the needs of their center."

Looking ahead, Dr. Johnson hopes to be able to put together a package that could be adapted to any center.

"Part of this is also being able to recommend certain things, to say what has worked well and what we would recommend."

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