Haring Center

March 13, 2021

Emerging Leaders in Inclusive Education

Haring Center researchers work with teachers, families and communities to advance inclusive education worldwide. In doing so, many serve as faculty at the UW College of Education and train the next generation of early childhood and special education experts.

This year, two doctoral students working closely with Haring Center researchers received competitive national fellowships to advance their research in educational equity and inclusion.

Gounah Choi, a third year doctoral candidate in special education, began her two-year fellowship with the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) in autumn 2020. Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, NCPMI works to improve state and local program implementation of the Pyramid Model, an early childhood multi-tiered system of support that promotes young children’s social and emotional development.

In her fellowship, Choi works with a faculty mentor on researching how to best support practitioners to implement the Pyramid Model through increasing family engagement in infant and toddler programs.

“This work aligns with my research interests,” says Choi. “We’re looking at how to encourage family engagement in infant and toddler settings, how to support families to collaborate with teachers more, and how to support teachers to collaborate with and encourage engagement from families.”

Choi explains that she is developing family engagement-specific resources and creating research summaries within her fellowship. She hopes that the materials she creates will be available to teachers and parents at the Haring Center when complete.

After the fellowship, Choi plans to continue her research on family engagement in social and emotional teaching beyond infant and toddler populations into the preschool age. She currently works closely with Haring Center Researcher Angel Fettig studying parent-teacher collaborations for promoting social-emotional learning of children with disabilities or delays, particularly those from underrepresented communities.

“Young children spend more time with their families than at school, so it’s really critical that families know what’s happening at school and teachers know what’s happening at home,” says Choi. “To foster that mutual understanding and consistent learning experiences across settings, the family engagement needs to come first.”

Choi worked as a special education teacher for young children with autism, and as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst prior to coming to the College of Education, which she says ignited her research interest.

“My students’ families were from diverse cultural groups and family engagement was a big piece to improve student outcomes.”

Choi knew teachers often have a heavy workload, and she saw at the same time families were very busy.

“That’s when I started thinking about the best way to promote family engagement, family participation, and teacher collaboration without putting too much pressure on both sides,” says Choi. “Family engagement can’t be put aside.”

William White, who is in his fourth and final year of his doctoral degree, received one of the inaugural Start with Equity fellowships under the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University.

White will conduct, review and translate innovative research on equity in early childhood education, along with three other doctoral candidates and one postdoctoral researcher around the country. The fellowship involves mentorship and professional development throughout the academic year and concludes with a summer internship at a policymaking institution.

As a Start with Equity fellow, White is researching inequities in gifted education and developing policy recommendations for districts and local, state, and federal agencies to reduce these inequities. He says he plans to bring the strength of storytelling into the policy format, and embed stories of Black male teachers in early childhood education within his policy brief.

White is also the co-designer and founder of the My Brother’s Teacher project, which launched earlier this academic year with Cultivate Learning and seeks to increase the presence of Black and Brown males in early childhood education. The Haring Center will be a project site for Black and Brown males to intern and gain experience working with children.

“The master narratives created by white supremacy are perpetuated every day through white teachers to Black students,” explains White. “We know the research says white teachers have lower expectations for Black students, so we need more Black teachers to counter that narrative. I bring out the goodness of what it means to be a Black male teacher — the parts we don’t hear about.”

Over his four years at the College of Education, White has worked in close collaboration with Haring Center Researcher Kathleen Artman Meeker. Prior to obtaining his doctoral degree, he taught special education for ten years and saw how racial inequities impact students.

“Too many times we look at inclusivity as just considering people with disabilities,” says White. “We don’t look at how a Black child who has a disability is less likely to get the services than a white child with a disability.”

“This work is draining at times,” he remarks. “But at the end of the day, if I know a Black kid in some classroom is going to have a better experience, I can go to sleep.”

Choi and William hope their respective fellowships will propel them further into their research interests.

“I would like to pursue a postdoctoral position to gain more research experience,” says Choi. “And in the long term, I am interested in teaching teacher candidates.”

White says he will continue his work with My Brother’s Teacher, expanding and diversifying the education field for all People of Color, regardless of their gender identity.

“Having a deeper understanding now of how policy works, I’ll keep pushing on policymakers,” he says. “I plan to make some changes.”