Faculty News

Rebecca New wins $521,000 Spencer Foundation grant

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Rebecca New

Rebecca New, associate professor of early childhood education, has won a $521,000 four-year grant from the Spencer Foundation to conduct research into how recent immigrant parents interpret their roles as parents as their young children adjust to opportunities and challenges in early childhood education settings.

The project is aimed at uncovering details about immigrant family life and parents’ cultural models of early learning and development and how they might change in response to children’s transitions through pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and primary school settings.

Study participants will include Chinese and Mexican immigrant parents with young children. The primary means of data collection will be through the ethnographic observations of routine family life, parenting practices and socialization strategies, and family narratives regarding children’s school readiness and transition experiences.

New explained that most immigrant research has focused on older immigrant students, with an emphasis on home factors that contribute to their successful school experiences. This study, in contrast, is aimed at learning about how children’s early school experiences are interpreted by their parents; and how those interpretations influence immigrant family life in the home.

New said she is especially interested in understanding patterns of change and resistance in immigrant parents’ traditional cultural values and parenting strategies. Study results are expected to help inform educators about the role of cultural values and immigrant parents’ beliefs on their child-rearing strategies and supports for early learning and development. She and other members of the research team also hope to shed light on the diversity within and between immigrant groups in terms of how they adjust to life in the U.S., interpret children’s social and academic competence, and engage in home-school relationships with their children’s teachers.

Most research on children of immigrants has focused on the family’s contributions to school achievement. This study will examine the influence of children’s early transitions into U.S. schools on their parents’ cultural values and their own transitions into a new society.

The study team will include a diverse set of UNC-CH researchers who represent different academic disciplines and cultural traditions. Reviewers from the Spencer Foundation acknowledged the importance of this strong interdisciplinary team to carry out the project.

“We are truly a multicultural interdisciplinary team,” New said. “Our graduate research assistants will also enhance these qualities of our research team.”

Joining the project is Xue Lan Rong, professor of social science education and sociology of education at the School of education. Rong’s research interests explore topics of race and ethnicity, national origins, social class and educational achievement of immigrant children. She also studies transnational migration and critical global education.

Also participating is Marta Civil, the Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Education. Civil’s research focuses on ethnically and linguistically diverse students and their understanding of mathematics, parental engagement, and connections between students’ in-school and out-of-school experiences.

Cristina Gillanders, a research scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and a clinical instructor in the School of Education, is also a participant in this study. Gillanders is a co-principal investigator in the Nuestros Niños Program, a study on the effects of professional development on teaching practices in public pre-K programs and Latino children’s language, literacy, math and socio-emotional outcomes. She has also examined Latino parents’ beliefs and practices related to their children’s early learning and development.

The research team also will benefit from consultants who are leading scholars in the areas of culture, child development and school achievement.

The Spencer Foundation, based in Chicago, makes grants to researchers working to find ways to improve education around the world. The foundation was established in 1962 by the late Lyle M. Spencer, founder of Science Research Associates, an educational publishing firm which was purchased by IBM in 1964.