May 20, 2014
VCU receives research grant to help middle school teachers improve academic outcomes of at-risk students
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Virginia Commonwealth University will lead a three-year research grant of $1.5 million from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to develop a professional development model to help 6th through 8th grade teachers support all students, including those who have difficulties and are at-risk for poor academic outcomes.
Thomas Farmer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Disability Policy in the School of Education, was awarded the grant. Jill Hamm, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and David Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, are co-principal investigators with Farmer.
Deborah Speece, Ph.D., associate dean for research and faculty development in the School of Education, emphasized the importance of the grant and what it says about Farmer’s research.
“Dr. Farmer is an esteemed colleague and world-class scholar,” Speece said. “Obtaining IES funding is a real tribute to the quality of Tom's work.”
During middle school, many students struggle academically, feel they don’t belong in school and perform poorly in their classes. Some eventually drop out. The purpose of the professional model, Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success (SEALS II), is to build on the original SEALS program that focused on supporting 6th graders as they transitioned into middle school. SEALS II will extend this work to 7th and 8th grades.
The original program has been shown to create classroom cultures in which students are academically motivated, support each other’s engagement in instruction, have fewer social difficulties and concerns about bullying, and have better academic outcomes.
“Through SEALS II, we will work with teachers, school counselors, special educators, administrators, parents and students to identify ways to promote and sustain students’ involvement and success in productive school activities,” Farmer said. “Our goal is to identify strategies and approaches that teachers can readily use in daily practice.”
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