Dominique Levert, School Psychology doctoral student, Awarded Early Care and Education Research Scholar: Head Start Dissertation Grant

Friday, October 2, 2020 - 2:00pm

Dominique Levert was awarded the Early Care and Education Research Scholar: Head Start Dissertation grant. Levert’s project is entitled "Ensuring Young Children Have a Head Start: Transition Practices that Link Early Childhood Education Settings." The two-year, $50,000 project focuses on ensuring a smooth transition into preschool, as adjustment challenges can cause a negative experience, making children less likely to be responsive to later schooling. Levert will be mentored by her advisor, Dr. Patricia Manz, professor of school psychology.

Levert is a fourth-year doctoral student in the school psychology program, specializing in health and pediatric psychology. Currently, she is a practicum student in the Allentown School District as well as an extern with Nemours through their Integrated Primary Care site. Through these experiences, Dominique hopes to continue learning how she can engage in early intervention/prevention-based practices within early childhood settings.

Through the Department of Health and Human Services/Administration of Children and families, the Early Care and Education Research Scholars: Head Start Dissertation Grants provides funds that aim to support dissertation research by advanced graduate students who are working in partnership with Head Start programs and with faculty mentors. These grants focus on building capacity in the research field by addressing questions relevant to early childhood programs that serve low-income children and families, as well as on fostering mentoring relationships between faculty members and doctoral students.

More about the research

Twenty percent of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are living in poverty (U.S.  Department of Commerce, 2018).  These data are concerning as this developmental period is characterized by rapid brain growth, yet poverty experienced before the age of 3 can undermine development (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).  Poverty has contributed to gaps in development that are detectable as early as age 2 by deficits in wide range of developmental domains (Halle et al., 2009).  To protect against poverty’s negative effects, attention has been given to early childhood education to provide access to high-quality early learning experiences.  Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) facilitate early childhood development by providing intensive comprehensive educational services for low-income infants and toddlers and their families.

As policies increase funding streams, EHS and HS have seen increased enrollment in both the infant/toddler and preschool programs (Friedman-Krauss et al., 2019), providing access to early care for low-income children.  However, this is also accompanied by a time of change as children and families are moving from home- or care-based settings into a more structured educational context (Rous & Hallam, 2006).  Considering this, transitions are becoming more common within early childhood, yet little understanding is provided on how to protect its success.  Ensuring a smooth transition from an infant/toddler program into preschool is critical, as adjustment challenges can cause a negative experience, making children less likely to be responsive to later schooling (West et al., 2001).  Easing this change is especially critical given the substantial evidence signifying the long-term effects of a high-quality early childhood education program (Friedman-Krauss, Barnett, & Nores, 2016).  Recently, the National Early Childhood Transition Center (NECTC) investigated practices and strategies that enhance early childhood transitions and created a survey of Transition Practices for agencies. 

Some evidence exists to demonstrate how the use of transition practices by teachers impacts children’s outcomes (LoCasale-Crouch et al., 2008), but these investigations only consider the preschool to kindergarten transition, leaving a void to potential impacts on early developmental age groups.  Additionally, there is insufficient empirical guidance about practices that ensure a seamless transition from EHS to HS. 

In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), the goals of this research project are to expand the extant literature to evaluate young children’s experience as they transition from an EHS to HS.  The proposed study has three major aims that will be addressed through partnership with OCDEL and EHS/HS staff and families: 1) adapt the NECTC survey for EHS/HS 2) examine transition practices used by EHS and HS staff and the interrelationship with variables, 3) examine the additive benefits of use of transition practices by EHS, HS, and both programs on children’s developmental outcomes in the preschool year.  

Levert is mentored by Dr. Patricia Manz, professor of School Psychology who serves as the PI and mentor. This is Dr. Manz’s fifth doctoral student to receive the Early Care and Education Research Scholar: Head Start Dissertation grant.  Previous student awardees include:

  • Addressing the Needs of Infants and Toddlers Exposed to Maltreatment: Examining the Impact of an Integrated Early Head Start & Children and Youth Services Program, Laura Wallace, 2017-2019
  • Home Visiting Quality and Parent engagement: Examining Mediation by Parent Self-Efficacy, Rachel Eisenberg, 2013-2015
  • Head Start Families’ School Readiness Beliefs and Transitioning Roles, Vanessa Pressimone, 2012-2013
  • Quantity, Quality, and Content: An Empirical Examination of Key Integrity Components in Early Head Start home visiting, Catherine Bracaliello, 2011-2012


Research Focus: 
Early Childhood Education
Home Visiting Interventions
Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health
Field of Expertise: 
Integrated Health/Educational Services
Learning and development