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Early Childhood Enrichment Center
The Radford University Early Childhood Enrichment Center (ECE Center) is housed in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COSD) and is located on the first floor of Waldron Hall. Through interprofessional collaborations with students and faculty and partnerships with community agencies, the mission of the ECE Center is to provide effective services and to conduct quality research to enrich the lives of young children and their families in the New River Valley of Virginia. The ECE Center is home to both service and research projects that address this mission under the direction of Associate Professor and Associate Dean Corey H. Cassidy, Ph.D., CCC-SLP.
Project Sprout is an awareness and prevention program for families with young children in the New River Valley who are experiencing homelessness and/or living in poverty. According to Aline Brinckman, the Homeless Liaison for Montgomery County Public Schools and the New River Valley Project Hope Coordinator, there are at least 40 families in the City of Radford, Montgomery County, and Pulaski County who are currently identified as homeless and who have at least one child in the family between the ages of birth to five years. The number of families who are living below the poverty line is countless. Ms. Brinckman, who serves as the liaison between Project Sprout and the New River Valley community, notes that the need for services for these families is expansive. Since the Spring of 2013, Radford University undergraduate and graduate student volunteers have been trained to appropriately and effectively communicate with these families while providing them with information, activities, and resources to work with their own children in four domains: cognition, speech/language/communication, emergent literacy, and social-emotional development. Following an intensive training program, students (Project Sprout Advocates) are equipped with an expanded awareness of the issues that families who are facing socioeconomic challenges may be facing in their own communities and are armed with information and materials to empower these families to more effectively support their young children as they develop and learn, regardless of the environments in which they live.
All RU students are welcome to volunteer with Project Sprout! Those who are studying to seek future employment in the arenas of education, healthcare, and/or human services may be particularly interested in the opportunity to interact with families in the community while enriching their own lives as they provide these services. Based on referrals from Ms. Brinckman and her colleagues, Project Sprout Advocates are assigned in teams of two to conduct visits with homeless families and/or those families living below the poverty line in the City of Radford, Montgomery County, or Pulaski County. During these visits (often in public libraries or parks), Advocates provide caregivers with age-appropriate and educational information, activities, and resources to interact with and address their children’s development skills. Student Advocates interact with families by a) communicating appropriately with parents and young children who are experiencing homelessness and/or poverty; b) interacting with the young children at different age ranges (between birth-five years) to address developmental milestones and skills; c) modeling for and coaching parents to utilize the toys and materials provided and to generalize the developmentally appropriate skills within everyday activities/routines. In addition, the children are provided with a small bag of developmentally appropriate books, toys, and materials that provide the basis for interactions and learning opportunities between themselves and their family members. The parent-child experiences these materials are intended to facilitate set the stage for the development of these skills and for greater success in the children’s futures in school and life.
Program outcomes, including successes and challenges, have been presented by faculty and students at the American Speech Language Hearing Association’s national convention and the annual conference of the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia.
Current research indicates that music can be utilized to reach specific speech and language goals with children as young as infants and toddlers. Since 2012, Dr. Cassidy has collaborated with Trish Winter, Ph.D., MT-BC, Assistant Professor in the Music Therapy Department, to investigate the impact of music therapy approaches on the communication and social development of young children and families who have participated in the Preschool Language Lab (PLL) through the RU Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic. This project has provided opportunities for students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Music Therapy Program to collaborate in designing and implementing music therapy and speech/language approaches that support the speech, language, and communication development of toddlers and preschool-aged children with a variety of disorders and diagnoses. Music is incorporated into each session of the PLL to address interaction, imitation, articulation, and sound blending skills; to promote social interaction; and to encourage practice and generalization of targeted communication skills. Studies have focused on the efficacy and impact of music-based activities on the clients’ vocalizations, initiations, and interactions within the group intervention model as well as the impact of interprofessional speech-language pathology and music therapy caregiver training on caregiver levels of stress.
The Language Environment Analysis (LENA) Pro System has also been used to collect data, assess client progress, and analyze the outcomes of the services provided in the PLL. The LENA Pro System is an automatic language collection and analysis tool for use by speech language pathologists. The LENA digital language recorders and software provide data, including estimations of adult words, conversational turns, and child vocalizations, from within a child’s natural language environment. These components are all pertinent to the analysis of subjects within a group service delivery environment such as the PLL. The LENA Pro System has been used by Dr. Cassidy and Dr. Winter to study the efficacy and impact of the music-based activities on the clients’ vocalizations, initiations, and interactions within the group intervention model.
Findings from these projects have been published in the International Journal of Health Sciences and presented by faculty and students at the American Speech Language Hearing Association’s national convention, the annual conference of the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia, and the American Music Therapy Association’s national conference.
Director: Corey H. Cassidy, Ph.D.