The Process and Approach
The comprehensive interdisciplinary Center for Child and Community Development promotes, supports, and develops programs across multiple levels that account for the multi-dimensional complexity of human development. The first level or plane (Community Plane) involves programs that focus on assisting and supporting community/ family development. Currently, many non-profit and for-profit organizations are conducting programmatic efforts across diverse communities. Most of these efforts, however, are conducted in isolation, so seldom do these organizations know about each other's efforts, much less have the opportunity to learn from one anothers successes and failures. One of the goals of the Center will be to coordinate efforts with partnering institutions and help them connect their efforts in ways that complement one another. For example, two of the non-profit organizations that have agreed to partner with the Center are DFW International and Dallas Concilio. By coming together under the umbrella of the Center for Child and Community Development, they not only bring to the table the unique contributions of their highly effective programs, but they also benefit from the synergy to be achieved through our joint activities. This win/win approach offers several advantages; it allows for the individuality of efforts by these organizations, enhanced opportunities for funding as a result of joint collaboration, and a greater impact of programmatic efforts at the community plane.
The second level of analysis (Inter-psychological Plane) will involve programs that focus on assisting "systems" design to aid the individual (a member of a particular cultural community) so that he/she can succeed. For example, within the school system we plan to examine the role, values, beliefs, and activities of school leaders, teachers, and students; the examination will provide information about current educational practices and student perceptions that will, in turn, allow us to provide assistance to educators in the form of professional development and evaluation.
Currently, at SMU we have two professional development programs (federally funded) that will be placed under the Center in order to begin work on this programmatic effort. As previously stated, individual programmatic efforts do have a degree of meaningful effect, but their connectedness within the Center will make such effect even greater. We plan to combine efforts between the Bilingual Education Program and the Newcomer Program at SMU. Historically, bilingual education at the university level has tended to focus exclusively on the professional development of teachers who wish to receive further training and certification in order to serve the great proportion of Hispanic children in the school districts across North Texas. However, our analysis of current efforts in bilingual education indicates that there are educational gaps in other bilingual communities as well. The Center will begin to address these gaps after it evaluates the needs for teachers serving students from other diverse communities such as Laotian, Cambodian, other Asian, African, and Native American communities. This new vision of programming will borrow from the lessons learned from bilingual education as well as from other similar programs. The inter-personal plane involves cross-cultural programmatic efforts that can, in turn, have a positive impact on the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions that educators may have about their students. For example, as part of our efforts, teachers attend a summer program in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The goal of this language program is to expose teachers to a second language as well as to activities that may serve them in their teaching when they return to the USA. Overall, these types of experiences are important as they create the conditions for future success in the classroom. The inter-psychological plane seeks to establish this type of positive experience preparing individuals in the program not only at the professional level but also at the personal level.
The third plane of analysis involves individual development. Efforts will focus on the development, implementation, and support of programs that assist students with their socio-emotional, cultural-identity, self-identity, and academic development. Many communities struggle with inadequate educational programs in their schools, while at the same time numerous programs exist that can enhance students' academic performances and whose successes at doing so have been corroborated through extensive research. The Center hopes to help these communities replace ineffective educational programs with effective versions. In this context, the Center adopts the philosophy of the community psychologist who points out that there is no need to reinvent the wheel; the Center's goal is to use the existing frameworks of research to make appropriate adjustments within the socio-cultural context of the community it serves. This is the case of our current efforts to use some of the instructional models developed from special-education research projects conducted by SMU's Institute for Reading Research. The Center's goal is to develop customized programs for Native Americans. Native American communities also need assistance in the development of their bilingual programs and in the development of reading programs that will account for their bilingual efforts. To this mean, we are in the process of writing a new grant under the Native American competition. This will provide Native American communities with support from research-based interventions for children that respect their goals, values, and beliefs as a community.
It is important to point out that these planes are addressed as separate for reasons of programmatic efforts, but they are all part of the same tapestry of activities and social programming that are needed in order to weave the fabric of our society as well as the fabric of every individual child. A goal of the Center for Child and Community Development is to assist in the weaving of that tapestry across programs.