Researchers focus on early childhood educators’ social and emotional well-being with $2.1 million grant

By Written by: Jeannette Sanchez
April 14, 2022

Photo of teacher reading to students

Researchers with the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth Houston will use the CARE program to assess teachers’ social and emotional well-being, classroom skills, and its impact on children’s behavioral outcomes.(Photo by Getty Images)

A five-year, $2.1 million grant will allow researchers at UTHealth Houston to test the impact of the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) program on the social and emotional well-being of early childhood educators in Head Start programs across three major cities in Texas.

Head Start is a comprehensive child learning and development program serving children from birth through age 5 from low-income families.

Investigators with the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth Houston will use the CARE program to assess teachers’ social and emotional well-being, their classroom skills, and the program’s impact on children’s social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.

“Chronic job stress and burnout are prevalent among teachers, especially among those working in early care and education settings serving the most vulnerable and underserved population,” said Yoonkyung Oh, PhD, principal investigator of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “Changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has placed even greater burdens on these teachers. We are excited to secure this grant to support the well-being of teachers working in a highly stressful working environment, especially during this difficult time.”

The CARE program is a professional development program that utilizes mindfulness-based approaches and emotion skills training to help teachers better manage the stress and challenges of classroom teaching. The program has been implemented and evaluated in elementary school contexts through support from federal funding agencies, but it has never been done at a large scale in early care and education settings, according to Oh.

“In partnership with Head Start agencies, as well as the nonprofit organization CREATE for Education, we are adapting the CARE program so it better meets the needs and contexts of Head Start. We will then implement the randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impacts of the CARE program in improving teachers’ social and emotional well-being and classroom management and interactions,” Oh said.

The randomized control study will consist of three 6-hour, in-person training sessions followed by email communications to help provide teachers ongoing support while they apply what they have learned in the training sessions to their classroom.

“Educators have been through a lot these last few years. They face tremendous burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic and if you add in the high stress of working in an underserved area with children who need the most help, it can really impact a person’s mental health. The CARE program is based on the idea that teacher well-being is a necessary condition for creating healthy classrooms and healthy children. We hope implementing this already successful program will allow both teachers and children in these areas to flourish,” Oh said.

Researchers hope to recruit 300 teachers from 60 to 80 Head Start programs in underserved areas of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

The grant is funded by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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