The Barnwell Early Childhood Outreach Initiative
Dolores A. Stegelin--Professor
Barnwell County is a large rural county located in the Low Country of South Carolina. Historically, this county has experienced relatively high rates of unemployment, school dropout, and child poverty. Barnwell is also a very resourceful county with citizens, three school districts, and a host of local and state agencies that work together to improve the health and educational outcomes for young children and their families. The Barnwell Early Childhood Outreach Initiative has evolved over eight years and includes the following phases:
Phase I: 5-Year Initiative to Enhance Early Childhood Learning Environments
In 2005 an anonymous donor who was committed to strengthening the early childhood learning environments in Barnwell County contacted Clemson University. Several faculty and graduate students with the Early Childhood Education Program at Clemson participated in doing systematic assessments of childcare, Head Start, and public school 4K classrooms using the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS). Based on the outcomes of these assessments, center directors and teachers were educated and assisted in making changes in the environments to increase the quality of early literacy, numeracy, and social experiences for young children 0-5. Over a period of 5 years, 75% of participating programs steadily increased their ECER scores and the quality of the learning environments.
Phase 2: Professional Development and Technical Assistance to ECE Programs.
The second phase of this project included providing quality professional development workshops for all ECE professionals in Barnwell County on a monthly basis through state-approved training in child development, curriculum, health and nutrition, and professional development. In addition, a Technical Assistant was employed by Clemson to go into the early childhood centers to provide Technical Assistance to each teacher and classroom. The TA was a highly experienced professional with 20 years of leadership and professional training of Head Start teachers and staff.
Phase 3: Assessing Assets and Resources and Conducting a GAP Analysis
In 2012 the Institute for Child Success contracted with Clemson researchers to conduct an analysis of health and educational resources in Greenville County relevant to optimal child development and school readiness of the 0-5 child populations. In response to this pilot project, a donor from Barnwell County provided additional funds for a second study of three rural counties: Bamberg, Barnwell and Williamsburg Counties in the Low Country of South Carolina. This study was completed in December of 2013 and was done in collaboration with the Institute for Child Success of Greenville, SC, with assistance from Directors of First Steps programs in each county. The study resulted in a GAP Analysis Tool that can be used by rural and urban communities to assess the resources and the gaps in services for very young children. Results inform the Institute for Child Success and other state agencies about policy and resource needs in both urban and rural communities in order to strengthen the health and educational resources for the 0-5 child populations.
Phase 4: Evaluation of the privately funded Darnell Initiative.
Phase 4 of the Barnwell Early Childhood Outreach Project began in 2012 when a lifelong citizen of Barnwell County passed away and left a large sum of money to be used to improve the quality of life and educational experiences of young boys in Barnwell County. This project is managed by a group of Barnwell Citizens, and Clemson University is providing evaluation support for the project with leadership from Dr. Stegelin. Working collaboratively with First Steps and Early Steps to School Success, child and parent outcome data are collected and analyzed to determine if services are making a difference. This phase further reflects the strong level of civic commitment to early childhood education in a county very representative of rural communities in South Carolina.