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Nebraska Goes Big

New Buffett Early Childhood Institute will close children's education 'success gap'

By Kim Hachiya, University Communications

One predictor of children's academic success is the quality of their early childhood experiences, from birth to age 8. Children who are vulnerable because of poverty, abuse or developmental, learning or behavioral challenges are particularly at-risk for academic failure if their early experiences are lacking.

"We need seamless continuity for children from birth to age 8 with easy transitions not only across the developmental spectrums but also the situations that children find themselves in –– home, preschool into kindergarten and beyond. Especially for children in poverty, there can be huge disconnections between home and school. We need to minimize that gap." - Susan Sheridan, education professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The new Buffett Early Childhood Institute aims to close the gap. The institute will focus faculty and students from all four University of Nebraska campuses on research, education, outreach and public policy that will transform early childhood education in Nebraska and across the nation.

Announced in January 2011 with a major gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett, the Buffett Institute will use research to inform public policy and early childhood development in immediate and practical ways. Buffett's gift is being matched by the University of Nebraska and will support several new Educare Centers in Nebraska modeled after successful child care centers in Omaha and elsewhere in the United States. The institute will work closely with a number of statewide partners and professional associations.

Helen Raikes, education professor at UNL, sees the institute in the context of the university's land-grant mission – using research-based information to help improve people's lives. And she believes the institute will be groundbreaking because of its focus on children and families with the greatest needs.

"There will be a unique synergy from the interrelated research, policy and education aspects," she said. "Things have really aligned in with an active forward moving agenda that will set the example for the entire country. There will be an immediate impact, especially in the area of teacher education. It will help teachers in their daily practice."

Carolyn Edwards, also an education professor at UNL, said the long-term goal for the institute is to have big impact in Nebraska, but also nationally.

"We have a lot of good programs in Nebraska but the difficult part is the coordination and scale-up. It's not really a matter of replicating programs, but more in doing research to understand how to translate programs into different contexts and then how to implement them."

Sheridan agrees: "People just really care about children. All of us really want what's best for children because it makes the world a better place."

Childhood institute

Executive Director sought for institute

A search is under way for the first executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. University President James B. Milliken said the university intends to recruit an executive director who is a recognized leader in early childhood education, child development, or other early childhood-related field with some applied background. He or she will provide the visionary leadership and administrative experience to build the institute as a nationally leading center that will be a game-changer in early childhood development and education.