When most people think of the OU presence in Tulsa, OU – Tulsa College of Medicine comes to mind, along with all of the wonderful clinics that are run out of the facility.  But most don’t realize that the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education also has a presence at the OU – Tulsa campus that is making a difference in the lives of children from birth to eight in Tulsa County.


The Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI) began in Tulsa in 2006 with only one employee.  Since then, it has grown to ten-full time employees and fifteen part time employees who are dedicated to early childhood education, research and outreach.  Back in 2006, one of the first projects given to ECEI was the Early Childhood Pilot program, requested by the Oklahoma State Legislature and directed by the State Board of Education.  The program was established to provide infant and toddler programming to at-risk children in rural and urban areas of the state.  ECEI was tasked with, and still evaluates the program and continues to work toward expanding quality infant and toddler services statewide.


Currently, ECEI’s largest project is serving as an evaluator for the Tulsa Educare sites.  At this time there are two Educare sites within Tulsa Public Schools with preparations underway to open a third.  Educare, a national program with sites across the United States, serves children age birth to five from low-income families by preparing them for school.  The Educare sites are commonly located next door to the elementary school the child will attend, making for a smooth transition from one school to the other.  ECEI collects data from the Tulsa sites and evaluates the children’s progress while looking at the quality of the classroom and how it affects the children’s development and learning.  They also study teachers and parents to see how their beliefs and practices affect a child’s success in school.  ECEI then takes their findings and compares them with other Educare sites across the country. “It’s pretty interesting to work across the sites like that and get to know the other evaluators and then get to see the work being used pretty immediately for advocacy purposes,” said Diane Horm, Director of ECEI.  “There are site-to-site differences but generally the kids at all of the sites are progressing.”


ECEI is partnering with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and researchers from other Educare sites across the country for an Educare Randomized Control Trial.  The trial randomly assigns children from birth to age three to Educare and then follows them over time, which Horm described as “the gold standard of scientific studies to prove that your program is effective.” Horm continued, “We will be looking closely to see the impact Educare has on cognitive, language and social-emotional development of children attending Educare versus their peers in other environments.”  They will be able to follow the Educare graduates through their Kindergarten year to see how they are progressing.  ECEI is one of five sites participating in the study.


Half of Educare’s funding comes from early childhood Head Start and the rest from an anchor funder. The anchor funders for Educare are generally well-known philanthropists, Warren Buffett is the anchor funder for the Omaha Educare site, Bill Gates in Seattle and the George Kaiser Family Foundation is the anchor funder for the Tulsa Educare locations. Kaiser’s funding, in turn, allows OU to do the evaluation research for Educare.


Much of what is occurring with the Early Childhood Education Institute at the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education’s Tulsa campus would not be possible without the generous support of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The partnership between ECEI and the George Kaiser Family Foundation initiated in 2006 and has not only made a significant impact on early childhood education and research in Tulsa, but also the lives of many children as well future teachers. Horm added, “Through endowing my position, GKFF has played a major role in the creation of an institute that can partner with community agencies to do applied research and evaluation to strengthen programs for young children and their families.”


In the late 1990s, the Kaiser Family Foundation helped set up a scholarship for Tulsa Community College students to pursue an associate’s degree in early childhood education. Soon, there were a number of graduates, but there wasn’t an institution around that offered a four-year degree in early childhood education. So, the Kaiser Family Foundation entered into a relationship with OU that developed two new faculty positions at the OU – Tulsa campus to set up and run the second two years as a bachelors completion program so those students could complete their bachelor’s degree.


The loan forgiveness program, only available at the OU – Tulsa campus, was also developed at that time. As the student goes through the second two years of the program, they accrue debt. After graduation, for each year these students work in Oklahoma in any early childhood setting, which is broadly defined as a licensed or approved facility, the Kaiser Foundation will erase their debt by 25%.  Along with the scholarship program through Tulsa Community College and then the loan forgiveness program, a student can get a four year degree and be debt free within four years of graduation, which is nearly unheard of in this day and age.  Through the program the Kaiser Foundation is ensuring that the best and brightest teachers are staying in Oklahoma to prepare infants and toddlers for a lifetime of learning.


Horm added, “The loan forgiveness program enables students who would not have the financial resources to pursue bachelors level early childhood teacher preparation.  So, it’s great for the students.  However, it’s also great for Oklahoma children and families because the payback is teaching in Oklahoma in an early childhood setting for four years.  The genius of the Kaiser loan is that it funds Oklahoma students who then give back to Oklahoma’s young children and families.”


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