In 2002, it existed only as a vision in the minds of a select few. By 2003, that vision had entered the realm of possibility. A year later, it came to fruition.
So commenced the journey of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.
For CYFS, the way forward begins with a retreat.
Thirty-one faculty, three deans and two vice chancellors from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln assemble for a day-long interdisciplinary retreat to identify strengths and forge partnerships that will eventually yield a decade of innovative research.
Participants chart future collaborations centered on three thematic areas: early childhood education and intervention; academic intervention, instruction and learning; and youth risk, resilience and health promotion.
The retreat is spearheaded by Susan Sheridan, future director of CYFS, and Lisa Crockett, UNL professor of psychology and initial member of the CYFS steering committee.
I think the main [benefit] was to understand where people were coming from and get them interacting with each other. Maybe they didn't know everyone there, but they could hear about what people were interested in and see whether there was some kind of spark, some kind of common ground.
Lisa Crockett, CYFS Faculty Affiliate
NU provides $250,000 in Program of Excellence support to CYFS on an annual basis.
The University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents approves the Nebraska Research Alliance on Children, Youth, Families and Schools as a Program of Excellence, one of the first 14 such programs designated by the university.
Susan Sheridan and colleague Carolyn Pope Edwards receive a five-year, $5 million grant to study the Getting Ready intervention. The funding represents the first major grant obtained through the new Program of Excellence.
The NU Board of Regents ratifies the formation of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.
Housed within UNL's newly formed College of Education and Human Sciences, the center initially comprises two faculty researchers, a handful of graduate assistants and a few staff members. Despite its modest core, the center establishes formal affiliations with 62 faculty from UNL, the University of Nebraska Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center within its first year.
CYFS takes up residence on the second floor of the newly remodeled Mabel Lee Hall. Located on UNL’s City Campus, 216 Mabel Lee becomes the base of CYFS research meetings and daily operations.
It had a core. It had a home. Then it had an impact.
Over the next decade, an ever-growing cadre of faculty, staff and students embraced the profound responsibilities and possibilities of generating research aimed at helping people thrive.
Along the way, they shared the outcomes of their efforts with others who admirably applied those findings to the direct support of children, youth, families and schools.
The center hires an expert in ecosystemic methodology, paving the way for the establishment of the CYFS Statistics and Research Methodology (SRM) Unit.
Funded by the Nebraska Department of Education, CYFS leads the launch of the first statewide Response-to-Intervention Consortium to help struggling students improve their reading skills.
The U.S. Department of Education awards CYFS a three-year, $2.7 million grant for the Early Reading First program, an effort to enhance the language and reading skills of preschool children living in rural and low-income settings.
The center collaborates on a National Science Foundation grant that explores how the 4-H program's integration of robotics can improve STEM skills and attitudes among participating children.
CYFS earns a five-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Education grant to house the National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), the only one of its kind in the United States.
R2Ed announces that it will endeavor to improve reading and science learning among students by identifying practices that support evidence-based instruction in rural communities.
Its initial studies include a national survey of teachers that provides insights on professional development in rural schools; an evaluation of professional development supplemented by distance technology-delivered coaching; and an assessment of professional development's impacts on inquiry-based science instruction in rural classrooms.
Rural teachers don’t always have access to the most up-to-date, research-based programs and strategies. We hope our research can fill that gap. Susan Sheridan, R2Ed Director
With $3 million of support from the U.S. Department of Education, R2Ed launches a four-year study into the effectiveness of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation, a family-school partnership approach developed by CYFS director Susan Sheridan.
The center hosts the inaugural CYFS Summit on Research in Early Childhood, an event that facilitates evidence-based dialogue among early childhood scholars, practitioners and policymakers from across Nebraska. Positive feedback persuades summit organizers to make the event a biennial one, with subsequent editions taking place in 2012 and 2014.
Everyone knows that it is hard to get a big enterprise like this going at first, [but] making these connections is the necessary first step. CYFS is doing the hard work of bringing people together so that those connections can be made. Robert Crosnoe, University of Texas at Austin
CYFS hosts a national working meeting focused on family-school partnership research and its translation into practice. The meeting draws renowned scholars from 18 academic institutions and spawns collaborative research efforts that extend well beyond the event.
With the center rapidly expanding, multiple CYFS units and research teams migrate from Mabel Lee Hall to the refurbished Whittier Research Center, formerly one of the nation's oldest junior high schools. New faculty and staff also settle into Whittier throughout the next few months.
Following a two-week medical mission to the impoverished LaMontagne (lah-mawn-TYN') region of Haiti, CYFS director Susan Sheridan establishes the nonprofit Elevating Haitian Education initiative. Its mission: advance educational opportunities for LaMontagne's children by helping to cover tuition costs their families cannot afford.
A CYFS-led research team undertakes a meta-analysis of more than 25,000 studies, seeking clarity on the differences between models of early childhood intervention that emphasize parent involvement and family-school partnerships.
The project traces its origin to conversations initiated during the CYFS-hosted working meeting held in September 2010.
There’s been a growing focus on how we get parents and schools to establish relationships with one another, beyond just getting them involved with activities at the school. We’re trying to tease apart these different concepts that are often lumped together under one umbrella. Elizabeth Moorman Kim, CYFS Faculty Affiliate
Backed by a $3.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, CYFS begins a study into the Getting Ready intervention's capacity for closing the persistent achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more privileged peers.
CYFS researcher Lisa Knoche teams with faculty affiliates to create a model that can project the long-term economic benefits of Nebraska's investments in early childhood education and programs, from the value of higher graduation rates to the savings associated with lower incidence of crime and welfare.
We believe we can show that these investments will yield a really positive, meaningful economic benefit, which is powerful in the eyes of policymakers.
Lisa Knoche, CYFS Research Associate Professor
Faculty affiliate Susan Swearer launches the CYFS-housed Empowerment Initiative, a research and outreach enterprise designed to support personal, social and cultural acceptance from childhood through adulthood. The intiative's early collaborators include Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, Paul Mitchell Schools, and the National Guard.
A research paper authored by CYFS faculty and postdoctoral fellows is named Article of the Year by School Psychology Review, an academic journal published by the National Association of School Psychologists.
The CYFS-housed National Center for Research on Rural Education hosts Connect-Inform-Advance, the 2013 National Conference on Rural Education Research. Attended by more than 150 participants, the conference generates discussion and disseminates findings about factors influencing the academic success of rural K-12 students.
CYFS announces the Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics (MAP), an outgrowth of the SRM Unit that offers expanded statistical support for social, behavioral and educational scientists throughout UNL.
I really want this to become a centralized place of dissemination for people to go for the latest, cutting-edge information related to trafficking.
Rochelle Dalla, CYFS Faculty Affiliate
Faculty affiliate Rochelle Dalla becomes founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Human Trafficking, the first quarterly journal dedicated to the subject. Published by Routledge, the peer-reviewed journal will release its first issue in early 2015.
The center announces and begins accepting applications for the CYFS Research Fellowship Program. The annual fellowship will offer a year of in-house leave for one to two faculty members from UNL's College of Education and Human Sciences to expand the depth and breadth of their research.
The collective promise of our efforts continually restores the undivided energy, attention and enthusiasm it commands. And so, even as we take stock of the last decade, we eagerly anticipate the work that awaits us in the next.
Then, as now, our endeavors will stem from the resolute belief that every individual and community has the capacity – and deserves the opportunity – to learn, grow and flourish. We have dedicated ourselves to ensuring that they realize this vast potential, especially when they might otherwise lack the resources or belief to manifest it.
For us, there can be no more worthwhile enterprise, meaningful pursuit or gratifying journey.
For us, this is just the beginning.
CYFS operates on the philosophy that progress stems from knowledge – knowledge that originates from the deliberate, rigorous research that has become our hallmark. In this spirit, we have devoted years to acquiring new information, validating existing ideas, and reconsidering long-held beliefs. We have become fluent in the languages of the academe: theories and hypotheses, citations and footnotes, data and statistics. And we have grown the knowledge base by contributing to the academic journals, handbooks and monographs that fill our shelves.
Yet, in doing so, we have not forgotten the purposes underlying this process – the purposes upon which our center was built. To develop and impart practices that help people overcome their most acute challenges. To provide tools that give individuals and communities the opportunities to attain the happiness, success and security they seek. To assemble talented, committed researchers whose visions become pathways to progress.
With an eye toward helping people achieve personal, academic and professional fulfillment, those researchers have dedicated a decade's work to the following thematic areas.
At birth, a baby’s brain contains roughly 100 billion neurons. Connecting these neurons requires positive, stimulating experiences that “wire the brain” for healthy, long-term learning and development.
Studies suggest that if these vital connections are not forged within the first few years of life, they never will be. This single fact illustrates the importance of early childhood research – and the significance of ensuring that children from birth to age 8 receive appropriate emotional support and intellectual opportunities.
Accordingly, we've spent the past decade conducting applied research that addresses every conceivable facet of early childhood, from cognitive and social-emotional development to the instrumental influences of ecological systems and socioeconomic factors.
We've especially worked to improve early childhood education, child care programs and home visitation interventions by supporting the teachers and early childhood staff who lead them. In aiming to position children for success, we've also focused on fostering strong partnerships between families and these early childhood professionals.
Create, implement and evaluate programs that foster the developmental capacities that ready children for school and place them on trajectories to succeed academically and socially
Improve and strengthen the homes, preschools, early education programs, peer groups and communities that shape young children’s futures on a daily basis
Investigate both typical development and the progression of children who are at risk, have special needs and hail from diverse ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds
Significantly improved early language, literacy and other academic skills for children living in poverty – thereby closing achievement gaps between these children and their more advantaged peers
Substantially enhanced children’s social-emotional welfare by reducing problem behaviors and parent-child conflict
Helped parents become significantly more sensitive and effective in supporting their young children’s learning
The following graph illustrates a demonstrated impact of Getting Ready, a CYFS-developed intervention approach designed to strengthen parent-child interactions and foster family-school partnerships that improve the educational prospects of very young children at risk for developmental delays.
Roughly one-third of U.S. schools reside in rural communities and face the associated realities of geographic isolation, staff turnover and limited access to valuable resources. More than half of Nebraska's schools are located in rural districts and contend with many of these same realities.
As home to the National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), CYFS has committed to meeting the unique challenges and fulfilling the distinctive needs of teachers, students and parents in rural communities. With the belief that teachers make the largest and most sustainable impact on educational improvements for students, we've sought to identify, develop and validate methods that help teachers deliver research-based instruction in rural classrooms.
We've specifically focused on investigating how professional development opportunities – provided face-to-face or via distance technology – influence teachers’ knowledge, perceptions and practices. We've also devoted our efforts to the proliferation of family-school partnerships and intervention programs that improve students’ academic performance.
Invest heavily in developing and expanding relationships with rural schools, constantly soliciting input that improves our understanding and enhances our ability to assist students
Support personnel in rural schools by giving them access to programs that ensure their students receive high-quality instruction in the fundamental areas of reading and science
Conduct outreach efforts that assist rural education researchers and practitioners throughout the United States
Collaborated with hundreds of teachers in rural communities across multiple states to pinpoint educational practices that improve students’ reading and science learning
Facilitated family-school partnerships that are directly benefiting hundreds of kindergarten through third-grade students, their parents and teachers in rural Nebraska and surrounding states
Conducted national research on identifying the unique realities of professional development for teachers in rural, urban and suburban schools
The map below features a sample of Nebraska school sites that have participated in projects coordinated by the CYFS-housed National Center for Research on Rural Education.
Both the United States and Nebraska have seen the number of job opportunities in technical fields rise quickly in recent years. This trend indicates that the future prosperity of Nebraska’s economy and labor force will significantly depend on educating its students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, recent Nebraska Department of Education reports indicate that 30 percent of the state’s students are not proficient in science or math.
CYFS seeks to prepare teachers and engage students by providing them with unique STEM opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. We facilitate partnerships among middle school, high school and university faculty that lead to high-quality professional development for teachers and the creation of highly informed, interactive lesson plans.
Meanwhile, our work with community organizations and schools gives students hands-on experience with robotics, race cars and many other possibilities born of scientific and technological know-how.
Emphasize educational strategies that encourage students to ask questions, think critically and learn to apply the scientific process
Demonstrate the many professional applications of STEM principles among students who are beginning to ponder future career options
Focus on underserved and minority populations that have traditionally lagged behind their peers in the areas of science and mathematics
Improved student learning, awareness, interest and motivation related to science, technology, engineering and math
Bolstered student skills relevant to the workplace, including teamwork and problem-solving capabilities
Helped participating educators gain STEM content knowledge and increased their confidence in teaching STEM subject areas
CYFS research professor Gwen Nugent collaborated on a study that examined the integration of robotics into the 4-H program. The investigation revealed that middle schools students who received hands-on experience with robotics scored higher on tests of STEM acumen than peers who did not.
The Nebraska Department of Education recently reported that nearly one-quarter of the state’s students do not qualify as proficient readers.
At CYFS, we believe that reading proficiency unlocks many academic, professional and personal doors – and is a key that all Nebraska students should possess.
In this vein, we've striven to ensure that young readers receive the early reading support they need to keep pace with their peers. For those who fall behind and need assistance to catch up, we work closely with schools and families to develop and establish intervention programs tailored to the strengths and needs of individual children. To do so, we focus on helping educators and parents collect and apply data that originates from careful assessment, observation and reporting across the classroom and home.
Focus on identifying the fundamental building blocks of literacy and strategies for instilling these skills in young children
Collaborate with schools to apply and evaluate approaches that encourage high expectations and promote reading achievement among all students, including English language learners
Implement and assess professional development programs that help teachers identify students’ reading needs and provide research-based instruction
Significant gains in early literacy skills that relate to later reading success for young children, including English language learners
Substantial increases in the number and proportion of students reaching national reading benchmarks – including students in persistently low-performing schools
Improvements in teachers’ use of data to guide their instruction, leading to notable gains in student reading performance
After participating in the CYFS-led Response-to-Intervention Consortium, Nebraska elementary schools reported significant gains in the number of students meeting the state's reading standards.
Of all the practices shown to influence children’s learning and development, perhaps none has received more consistent support than the forging of partnerships between the families and schools that serve as the bedrock of children’s formative years.
It is unequivocal: Families play an essential, irreplaceable role in influencing their children’s intellectual, social-emotional and behavioral trajectories. Indeed, the synergy that results from families collaborating directly with schools can help children maximize their potential both inside and outside the classroom.
For a decade, we've made concerted efforts to foster continuity across multiple contexts – from the living room to the classroom – and ensure that children receive consistent support from every caregiver and educator responsible for their development and learning. We've especially explored the capacity of family-school partnerships to enhance the long-term prospects of underserved children living in impoverished and rural settings.
Determine the best approaches for encouraging two-way communication, mutual appreciation and joint decision-making between caregivers and teachers
Develop frameworks that help teachers and caregivers collaboratively identify children’s strengths and needs, develop effectual plans, and implement evidence-based strategies that address those needs
Examine how the development and outcomes of family-school partnerships are shaped by demographic, socioeconomic and geographic factors
Improved children’s social and adaptive skills while reducing the level of disruptive behavior they display at home and school
Significantly bolstered parental competence and engagement in children‘s learning
Enhanced relationships between parents and teachers, leading to pronounced benefits for disadvantaged families
As illustrated by the graph below, the Conjoint Behavioral Consultation approach developed by CYFS director Susan Sheridan has demonstrated the capacity to limit behavioral issues commonly exhibited by children living in disadvantaged conditions.
Whether assessing early childhood interventions, investigating technological applications or adapting methodological approaches, the following CYFS researchers have guided and advanced the center's research agenda throughout the past decade.
Dr. Susan Sheridan has spent more than 20 years researching, developing and assessing approaches designed to improve young children’s academic, behavioral and social-emotional development.
She has focused especially on intervention models that foster meaningful parent-child and family-school relationships, which her research has shown to enhance the long-term prospects of underserved children living in impoverished and rural settings.
Dr. Gina Kunz conducts large-scale research studies that identify strategies and practices for improving the lives of children and their families and teachers across all the environments in which they live and learn. Her recent studies have focused on family-school partnerships, school-based consultation, and professional development featuring distance-based instructional coaching for teachers.
Dr. Kunz has served CYFS since 2003, when she became CYFS director Susan Sheridan's first faculty hire.
Dr. Gwen Nugent has more than 30 years' experience in the design, production and evaluation of mediated instruction, serving as project manager for more than 300 multimedia projects aimed at a variety of subject areas and audiences. She has also coordinated research projects focusing on the impact of technology to improve student learning, with special emphasis on multimedia instruction and online assessment.
Dr. Nugent joined CYFS in 2004.
Dr. Todd Glover has significant experience developing and evaluating academic and behavioral supports for K-6 students. He has also managed multiple large-scale, multi-site longitudinal research projects. His prior experience as a teacher and numerous partnerships with school personnel have given him particular insights into the challenges involved in bridging research with practice.
Dr. Glover has been a member of the CYFS research faculty since 2004.
Dr. Lisa Knoche designs and evaluates intervention and prevention programs for children and families at risk, focusing on approaches that support school readiness and family involvement in early learning. Toward this end, she actively works with community partners to implement research investigations. She also aims to identify effective professional development strategies for early childhood professionals.
Dr. Knoche joined the CYFS research faculty in 2005.
Dr. James Bovaird’s research focuses on methodological applications and innovations in the use of advanced multivariate techniques for the social sciences, particularly the evaluation of intervention efficacy through an ecological perspective.
Dr. Bovaird became director of the CYFS Statistics and Research Methodology Unit in 2006. He now serves as founding director of the CYFS-housed Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics.
People have always been, and continue to be, at the center of everything of we do. Their well-being serves as the compass that directs our plans and pursuits. With their welfare as our inspiration, we aspire to make impacts that will remain for years, decades, even lifetimes to come – impacts characterized by camaraderie and connections, comprehension and compassion, curiosity and commitment.
Though they provide just one perspective on our research, the following numbers (current as of May 2014) help reflect the scope of our efforts over the past 10 years.
More than 41,000 children and adolescents have participated in the center's research across Nebraska, the Midwest and the United States. These programs have aimed to enhance school readiness, reading skills, science literacy, social-emotional maturity and other essential developmental capacities.
Hundreds of PK-12 educators have taken part in CYFS projects ranging from professional development and family-school partnership initiatives to student-centered intervention and prevention programs.
Approximately 400 PK-12 schools in rural, suburban and urban districts have contributed to CYFS research. These schools have represented a wide range of socioeconomic and demographic populations, reflected both in student composition and available resources.
The number of University of Nebraska faculty affiliated with CYFS has expanded steadily throughout the center's history, as has the breadth of research interests represented by those scholars. Many current affiliates have collaborated with the center since its formation, while others from every stage of the career spectrum continue to join on a yearly basis.
More than 200 UNL graduate and undergraduate students have affiliated themselves with CYFS since 2004. Students become affiliates upon submitting a grant through the center; working on a CYFS-funded grant project; participating in the center's Grant Writing Workshop; or assisting CYFS faculty through the university's UCARE program.
CYFS has earned $20.81 in external funding for every $1 invested via Program of Excellence funds. This represents more than a 2000% return on the university's investment.
Based on known outcomes, the center has received funding for 45% of the grants it has submitted over the past 10 years.
CYFS owes its very existence to the spirit of collaboration that has since come to define us. Throughout our decade-long history, we have counted ourselves fortunate to foster and join many collective efforts to improve people’s lives – efforts born of mutual goals, corresponding commitment and steadfast belief in the power of partnerships.
This belief has driven our formation of a multidisciplinary research network that catalyzes the conversations essential to spanning ever-narrowing gaps between theory and praxis, early childhood and adulthood, pedagogy and intervention. It has motivated us to help researchers, practitioners and policymakers consider their specific responsibilities in the context of those whose work inevitably shapes, and is shaped by, their own. It has encouraged us to unite families, schools and communities, sparking unprecedented understanding and continuity across classrooms and homes. And it has stimulated us to reach beyond the walls of our center, the edges of our campus, the borders of our state, and the boundaries of our country.
In these forms and many others, the principles of collaboration ultimately remind us of a past that shaped us, serve as a touchstone of the present that guides us, and offer a vision of the future that inspires us.
Put simply, the center could not conduct its research without the support of the families and schools it aims to assist. From the largest school of Omaha to the smallest classroom of Ogallala, we have constantly sought opportunities to develop meaningful and lasting partnerships with Nebraska's educators, parents and community leaders. With our immeasurable gratitude, these partners have shown a remarkable willingness to share their unique insights and invest their valuable time with us.
“We have learned so much from our school and family partners; they generously share ideas and suggestions that truly inform our practices,” said Amanda Witte, a CYFS project director. “By developing and maintaining these close working alliances, we are better able to help meet the needs of students and families.
“I am struck by how committed our school partners are to providing the best education possible for their students,” Witte said. “They not only have amazing policies and practices in place, but they also actively seek fresh perspectives and techniques. We are so lucky to have the chance to connect with these educators.”
With roots in UNL's College of Education and Human Sciences, CYFS has cultivated an ever-growing and diverse network of faculty affiliates who value cross-disciplinary collaboration on grant-funded research projects.
Hailing from all four University of Nebraska campuses (Lincoln, Omaha, Kearney, Medical Center), 10 college-level units and more than 20 academic departments, CYFS faculty affiliates span a research spectrum that encompasses education, psychology, sociology, statistics, nutrition, economics, technology, business, law, communications and more. This range of interdisciplinary perspectives has fostered the types of questions, insights and solutions necessary to address the evolving challenges and opportunities facing children, youth, families and schools.
Our postdoctoral associates and graduate research assistants eventually leverage their experiences at CYFS into academic and professional opportunities across the country.
We continue to support these alumni after their departure, frequently identifying ways to collaborate on inter-institutional research projects that expand our reach and offer new opportunities for assisting children, youth, families and schools.
We extend our sincerest thanks and deepest appreciation to all who have accompanied us on this 10-year journey. We are especially indebted to the families, educators, colleagues, administrators and agencies who have contributed so much to our work.
With their continued and essential support, we believe that the last decade is just a preview of our future. Just a glimpse at what we can achieve.
Just the beginning.