The University of Nebraska-Lincoln launched an early childhood research initiative with Brazil during a strategic meeting May 18-19 in São Paulo.
The working meeting drew 60 early childhood scholars, policymakers and educators from Brazil and UNL with the purpose of forming collaborative teams to conduct future research. UNL’s representation included the Office of International Engagement, the Chancellor’s Office and faculty from the College of Education and Human Sciences.
“Learning about early childhood conditions in Latin America opens our vantage point to better understand the breadth and scope of children’s needs,” said Susan Sheridan, director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools. “This emerging partnership enriches all of us because it allows us to have a new lens on the work we do here in Nebraska.”
Support for the initiative began with outgoing Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who identified the potential for early childhood collaboration in November 2014 after meeting with Brazilian academic and government officials. UNL has already forged Brazilian partnerships in critical areas, including life sciences, food security, water sustainability and livestock. Adding early childhood is an important next step, said Chancellor Ronnie Green.
“The UNL-Brazil early childhood meeting was a bilateral summit that places the shared concern for the future of Brazilian and American children on the same critical level as the other vital Nebraska-Brazil collaborations,” said Green, who attended the São Paulo meeting. “The Nebraska organizers and participants demonstrated that we remain committed to Brazil for the long haul despite temporary economic challenges.”
The meeting featured an overview of early childhood issues in Brazil and the United States, as well as targeted sessions on early learning, the ecology of development, program quality and professional development. It also featured networking opportunities that ranged from breakout sessions and discussion groups to shared meals and samba dancing.
Building relationships was a critical component of the trip, Sheridan said, as participants exchanged perspectives and began forming ideas for future projects. Collaborative UNL-Brazilian teams will have the opportunity to apply for project funding from the UNL Chancellor’s Office, with the intention of positioning their research for larger grants.
Potential projects include those focused on social-emotional interventions for young children in Brazil, evaluation of Brazilian home visitation programs, and in-service teacher training to support young children’s language development.
“We saw an incredible energy and commitment to working together across countries and cultures,” Sheridan said. “Through this process, teams began to co-create meaningful directions that are already taking shape.”
One team aims to support Brazilian families struggling in the wake of the Zika virus outbreak. The virus has been linked to an increased number of infants born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder that can cause a range of developmental problems.
Public child care programs in northeast Brazil currently enroll seven children with microcephaly. Next year, they anticipate enrolling 700, said Natalie Williams, assistant professor of child, youth and family studies.
Williams is collaborating with Pompéia Villachan-Lyra, professor at Brazil’s Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, and UNL’s Christine Marvin and Cody Hollist to identify strengths and key stressors for Brazilian families and early childhood educators affected by the outbreak. The team is also considering how their research could support early intervention programs in the United States.
That applied focus represents the heart of the UNL-Brazil early childhood partnership, Williams said. As international teams begin conceptualizing future projects, translating research to practice remains a common goal.
“This meeting drew so many people from different interest areas who are ready to roll up their sleeves, dive in and tackle really big issues facing Brazil – and in many ways, facing the United States, too,” Williams said. “It makes you think about your research on a much larger scale.”