The Kids Aren’t Entirely All Right

Day care center addresses societal trends that are impacting school readiness
The Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center has partnered with Yale University and the State University at Old Westbury on a program to get parents more involved in their children’s education. Christine Sampson

That children are entering school with increased separation anxiety, more problems with social and emotional learning, difficulties making friends, and other challenges are documented trends that Arlene Pizzo-Notel has noticed over the last few years among her charges at the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center.

Ms. Pizzo-Notel, who spent 11 years as a teacher there before becoming its program director, is now leading the center in a partnership with Yale University’s Child Study Center and the State University of New York at Old Westbury with the goal of easing the negative impacts of these trends here. The partnership will rely heavily on getting parents more connected with what their children are doing at school and linking these efforts to what is happening at home. There will be parent surveys along the way to support research at the two universities.

“We are excited to be collaborating with Yale and Old Westbury on something that can be called a really progressive parent-involvement model that addresses the trends we’re seeing in children today,” Ms. Pizzo-Notel said.

She said the center has recognized for some time that children are facing new realities. “It’s something that I call new societal norms — what’s going on in society that’s different maybe from five years ago,” she said. “Harvard calls it increased economic instability, changing demographics in communities, a changing political environment. Parents are trying to navigate the world today with these major changes, and that’s affecting how children are growing. They’re coming to school with fewer cognitive skills, an increase in anxiety, and fewer social skills developmentally.”

The program with Yale and Old Westbury will involve a series of evening workshops with parents over the next six months addressing topics including language development, technology, health and wellness, parent advocacy in schools, and challenging behaviors. The workshops will be conducted in both English and Spanish, and are open not just to parents whose children are enrolled at the Eleanor Whitmore Center, but also to parents whose children are on the waiting list for seats there. Childcare will be provided while parents are in the sessions, which will be presented by teachers, university experts, and practicing clinical professionals.

The meat and bones of the program are classroom lessons for children that Ms. Pizzo-Notel wrote two years ago that incorporate social and emotional learning into the school day. The center then piloted a three-week version of the program to start getting parents involved.

“A year ago we said, ‘Hold on, we need parents to be on board with this kind of thinking,’ and this year we’re expanding it,” she said. “This is a center-wide effort.”

The study is being supported by a grant from the Long Island Community Council’s All for the East End program, and Ms. Pizzo-Notel attended related training at Yale.

“It’s time we all know what the research is telling us,” she said, pointing out the documented connections between early childhood education and students’ academic success later in life. “We all know what happens here has to do with what’s happening in the 10th grade. It’s time to say, ‘What can we do to help you?’ ”