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Nebraska Goes Big

UNL collaborating with Penn State, others, to help military kids

By Dan Moser, IANR News

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension is partnering with the U.S. Department of Defense, and its new Big Ten mate, Penn State University, to develop content and provide programming for a nationwide $7 million educational program that will help prepare the children of military families to be successful as they enter the school system. The three-year project will develop and deliver early childhood professional development in 13 states, focusing on children, birth through 12 years old, from military families who live off base.

"Child care services, education and support usually are well-established on military bases," said Tonia Durden, UNL Extension early childhood specialist. "However, families unconnected to bases may not have access to the same level of service and support."

Military families, including reservists and National Guard members, face unique challenges – frequent relocation; one or both parents deployed overseas; loss of income; and other stressors, Durden said. Their children can enter the school system behind their peers academically and socially because of these pressures.

The Child Care and Youth Training and Technical Assistance Project initially will focus on children from Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington. Total funding over three years is $7.05 million.

UNL Extension will work with counterparts at Penn State to develop and deliver content for the project. Content will be delivered to early childhood educators both in-person and online. The online portion of the project will be delivered through Penn State's existing Better Kid Care Program. Local-level partnerships with Extension systems in each state will help identify target audiences and provide long-term sustainability.

Nine UNL Extension and four Penn State Extension educators have been assigned to this project, creating professional development content for early childhood educators who serve military families in the 13 states. The project aims to strengthen the knowledge and practices of existing child care providers as well as to increase the number of such practitioners so more military-family children will have access to the services, Durden said.

The first year will feature face-to-face professional development and special programs designed to educate those interested in starting a child-care business. More specific training, based in part on the individual states' needs, will be developed during the second year and a train-the-trainer approach will be developed in year three so the program can continue to be spread.