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Mongolian boy

Photo: Courtesy of
Shelley deFosset

Helping Children and Families Around the World

In the late 1990’s, George Soros, U.S. philanthropist and financier, wished to support former Soviet Countries as they began their journey towards becoming democracies. One of the methods of accomplishing this goal was to help these countries to develop high-quality early childhood programs which emphasize democratic values such as being family centered, and offering learning activities based on individual child needs, abilities, and interests. Through Mr. Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI) funding, he helped the developing democracies take advantage of the U.S. early childhood program, Head Start, and its rich experience in helping to develop young children’s minds and democratic values. Head Start sent technical assistants from the U.S. to help create an international version of the program called Step by Step.

Dr. Patsy Pierce, Assistant Professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, and Associate Director for Early Childhood Research and Practice in the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies (CLDS), has been working for OSI in Mongolia since 2001. There she saw the implementation of the Getting Ready for School (GRS) program in the gers (yurts) on the steppes of that country. Because the GRS materials appeared to be adaptable for any culture and required little if any literacy ability on the part of the users, she decided to bring the program to North Carolina. With its growing Spanishspeaking population and traditionally high illiteracy rate, she believed that the GRS program could be beneficial to families in N.C. Through a federally-funded Early Reading First grant, Dr. Pierce was able to implement and evaluate the GRS program in a rural, poverty-stricken area of the state. Families indicated having ”more ideas” to work with their children and indicated an increased rate of 63% in reading with their children on a daily basis.

Dr. Pierce is also a literacy and disabilities consultant for the National Head Start Family Literacy Center (NHSFLC) via a contract between that agency and the UNC-CH CLDS. She brought the materials to the attention of Dr. Joanne Knapp-Philo, Director of the NHSFLC, who also saw great potential in the use of the GRS program by many families across the United States. The GRS program and supportive training in the implementation of that program is now available to over 4500 Head Start programs in the U.S. and all of its protectorates. As Dr. Knapp-Philo states in her letter of appreciation to the OSI regarding the gracious donation of the GRS program to Head Start:

”It feels as if we are joining in the global effort to support families to set their children on a trajectory of success in school and life. We in the Head Start community are truly humbled to be joining with our colleagues across the globe in this essential and critically needed human effort. Thanks to each of you for allowing us to travel this path with you and children and families in all of our countries.”

Mongolian toys

Toys courtesy of
Patsy Pierce

Mongolian Toys

Traditional Mongolian toys emphasize culture and problem solving and are used by the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences to provide speech-language pathology training in that country.

Open Society Institute poster

Courtesy of
Patsy Pierce

Getting Ready For School

The Open Society Institute funded the development of these materials which families can use to help their children to develop early language, literacy, and math skills. These materials are being used world-wide, including over 4500 Head Start programs in the U.S.

Dr. Pierce is responsible for bringing these materials to the U.S., providing training in their use, and evaluating their impact on children and families.

International Step by Step Association: