Assoc. Prof. Martha Bronson (SOE) and Assoc. Prof. Penny Hauser-Cram (SOE), with Judith Palfrey, MD, of Children's Hospital in Boston, received the grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to track young adults who as pre-schoolers took part in the Brookline Early Education Project (BEEP) in the 1970s.
The Brookline Early Education Project was a comprehensive program launched in 1972 to provide a battery of support services to young children from infancy through kindergarten. The pioneering early intervention program provided health and developmental monitoring and other services over a five-year span between birth and entry in school.
Children from inner-city Boston accounted for one-third of the 300 children enrolled in the voluntary program, which offered play groups for two-year-olds, five-day-a-week programs for three- and four-year-olds, and bilingual education.
Bronson said she and her associates hope to compare 150 adults who took part in the early childhood program with an equal number of the same age from Brookline and Boston who did not, in an effort to assess the effect BEEP had on participants' subsequent lives. Funding for the project was received in late February and the Boston College researchers hope to begin interviewing former participants by early May.
"We're going to be looking at their relationships with other people, with their peers and with their parents," said Bronson. "Can we isolate any long-term effects from quite a substantial effort early in life?"
Bronson said the program represented a pioneering effort to provide young children and their families with the "seamless web of care and support" that, 25 years later, appears increasingly lacking in a society in which many feel disconnected from their communities.
"I think people feel isolated," said Bronson. "In our society, we move all over the country. We're not as connected to support systems."
Hauser-Cram said BEEP was a trend-setter among early-intervention programs on several fronts. It targeted a mix of children from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds, integrated educational and social services in one location, and as a school-based program, represented the first time that public schools had taken an active interest in children under kindergarten age.
"This was a very community-based experiment," said Hauser-Cram. She said researchers aim to determine if children in the program came, as adults, to have an enhanced "sense of themselves as part of a larger community of human beings."
Hauser-Cram said parents whose children were enrolled in BEEP a quarter-century ago have tended to welcome the chance to reminisce about the program. "They're so receptive when we call them," she said. "They still look back on the project as a wonderful experience."
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