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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

New Center Focuses on Early Childhood Development, Education, Mental Health

Educator working with young children

A new center to improve well-being in early childhood and create a coordinated network of care is being created at San Diego State University’s Department of Child and Family Development (CFD). 

The Center for Excellence in Early Development (CEED) will work to bring together school districts, pediatricians, care providers, policymakers and scholars with a focus on early childhood. The center will also facilitate research and contribute to the preparation of the early childhood workforce. 

By merging the overlapping fields, the educators hope to bring greater attention to education issues such as mental health well before children enter the school system. The center was approved by the SDSU Academic Dean’s Council early this month. 

“This is really seeking to position San Diego State as a leader in the early childhood field,” said Dr. Sarah Garrity, associate professor and chair of CFD. “CEED will support the early education workforce and families by building on the strengths of communities and not taking a deficit approach to our work — this is about looking at how we can build on things that are going right in families.” 

Garrity is one of three faculty members serving as co-directors of the center whose diverse expertise exemplifies the transdisciplinary nature of CEED. Associate professor Dr. Sascha Longstreth, a former preschool teacher, and Garrity, a former Head Start teacher and administrator, are experts in early childhood education, while assistant professor Dr. Lisa Linder is a licensed clinical psychologist. 

“We really feel like there is such a need for this cross-sector, transdisciplinary focus in the community focused on early childhood,” Linder said. “Particularly in education, children before kindergarten often get forgotten. Merging these fields, and placing the importance of mental health in education in these early years at the forefront for our work, was really the impetus for the creation of the center.” 

Linder also directs SDSU’s Healthy Early Years Clinic (HEY), which offers mental health services to low-income children and families while providing clinical training to CFD graduate students. 

HEY, which has existing partnerships to provide services to 10 schools in the San Diego Unified School District, will become a branch of CEED from its existing clinic in the Dede Alpert Center for Community Engagement in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood. 

Garrity and Longstreth will spearhead the other branch — the new Hub for Effective Teaching and Learning, focused on designing and implementing systems of support for early childhood providers, children and families; bringing evidence-based practices to the field; and improving the early childhood workforce. 

“One of the things that we're really focused on is training and preparing the next generation of early childhood leaders, including educators and clinicians,” Longstreth said. “For Sarah and I, who are on the early childhood education side, we're really intentional and thoughtful about bridging what we are doing with CEED with the curriculum that we provide to our students in our program.”