SESP Students Present to Illinois Governor’s Office

SESP Students Present to Illinois Governor’s Office

Oberman_Lasota_AudipudyAs part of an innovative new class, School of Education and Social Policy undergraduates wrestled with some of Illinois’ most pressing early childhood education issues before formally presenting their recommendations to policy makers at the Illinois Governor’s office in Chicago.

Professor Terri Sabol created the 10-week course “Crafting Child Policy” after an Illinois Early Learning Council committee member sent her a list of specific research questions drawn up by the state. At the same time, Sabol was looking for a way to make her child development class more relevant and useful.

“It seemed like Illinois could benefit from the brainpower, enthusiasm and time of the undergrads, while the students would be able to apply their new knowledge of the science of child development to real and relevant contexts and have the potential to inform Illinois child and family policy,” said Sabol, assistant professor of human development and social policy.

Sabol worked closely with Kathy Stohr, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development to ensure that her students were answering questions that were useful to the state.

“I was amazed by the extent to which the students ‘got’ the very real policy issues over such a short period of time,” Stohr said. “It was also remarkable that they made these recommendations with such confidence and surety—to the very people who are active implementers and policy makers of the program.”

Representatives from a wide range of agencies and organizations in early childhood education attended the final presentations, including the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Education, Ounce of Prevention, Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Action for Children, Voices for Illinois Children, and Erikson Institute.

One audience member in particular -- Stacy Ehrlich, a managing director and senior research scientist at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research -- slightly unnerved Megana Audipudy, Selena Lasota and Samantha Oberman, because the trio used Ehrlich’s research in their report on decreasing chronic absenteeism in early childhood education.

“It was a little nerve-wracking to know that Stacy Ehrlich was watching, but I was excited to see her taking pictures and participating in our discussion,” said Audipudy, an industrial engineering major. “We really enjoyed talking to her afterward. It was validating to hear an expert explain why she thought our ideas were useful.”

Ehrlich said she was impressed that the students looked at broad solutions that were more supportive of families and communities. “I loved that they understood that absenteeism isn’t a result of uncaring parents,” she said. “It’s that they have so many things they are trying to balance. And health is an issue.”

In addition to chronic absenteeism, the teams of students looked at the attrition rate for preschool teachers, which is almost double the rate of K-12 teachers; the Illinois ExceleRate program; and the effects of socio-emotional interventions in Head Start programs.

Elliott Regenstein, senior vice president, advocacy, and policy for Ounce of Prevention Fund, commended the students’ work.

“What’s exciting is to see them digging into the inquiry process,” said Regenstein, who helped compile the master set of research questions. “A lot of these questions are ones that the professionals are still wrestling with the complexity of the answers. It was exciting to see their fresh perspective. I hope some will stay in the field and keep wrestling with it.”

Many of the students said they enrolled in the class because of the chance to present to the Governor’s office and key players in early childhood development.

“It is everything I love and respect about SESP: We are a small school that thinks BIG, and we work to effect real change,” said Sarah Lee. “It was a huge source of motivation to be able to produce work that really matters and would reach a broad audience of policymakers, educators, and others.”

“It was also great to hear that our policy recommendations could inform the next decisions around education in Illinois,” Lee added. “After working through all the research and navigating what is a very complicated, not-so-straightforward field, the class put everything we were learning into practice.” 

Working with students from different backgrounds – including social policy, economics, human development and social policy and even engineering -- enhanced the learning and working experience, Lee said. “The field is beginning to draw more on people with diverse backgrounds to inform their policy and effect better solutions to improving our children's education in the U.S.,” she said.

Senior Lan Nguyen, who in the fall will pursue a master’s degree in social work at the University of California Los Angeles, said the class finale at the Governor’s office capped off her entire college experience. “The opportunity to potentially enact physical change motivated us to work really hard,” she said. “It was the coolest experience I had at Northwestern.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 7/10/17