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Released May 9, 2003

NASA, SOUTHERN MISS JOIN FORCES
ON EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

STENNIS SPACE CENTER - NASA and The University of Southern Mississippi have forged an agreement that promises to establish a model at Stennis Space Center for education and research in the field of early childhood learning.

The university will operate the Stennis child care center that serves children of the space center's employees. This new association will offer enhanced state-of-the-art teaching applications in an exciting, educational and fun environment.

"We are excited about this association with the university for our child development program," said Dr. Dewey Herring, education officer for Stennis.

"This new agreement will provide a steady stream of ongoing research and application that will be beneficial to the continuing enhancement of the program here. The research aspect is important, and the university's success record in administering two other child development programs is encouraging for our operation."

The research component, once in place, will involve university faculty and graduate students in developing effective instructional materials and activities for young children.

Southern Miss educators coordinating the program are Dr. Sharon H. Walker and Dr. Howard Walters from the university's J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium, and Dr. Wanda S. Maulding, division chair and professor of education and psychology at Southern Miss Gulf Coast.

"We see this program as offering a competitive edge for recruiting technical personnel at Stennis," said Dr. Angeline Dvorak, Southern Miss vice president of research and economic development. "Creating a model program provides an excellent learning experience for Southern Miss students who are focusing on the education of younger children."

Dvorak noted that students will gain personal experience in a quality program that supports children's development in a nurturing, safe and healthy environment while delivering hands-on experiences built around themes of space, oceans and earth science.

"The university's Scott Aquarium has for decades excelled in using the natural world to whet youngsters' appetites for learning and exploring," Dvorak said. "The combination of the aquarium's national leadership in science education and our education faculty's expertise creates a research engine that fills a need on the coast and in the state. It is a good fit with the Stennis Space Center's reputation for excellent educational programs."

In prior years, the center has operated a science summer day camp for about 40 children ages 5 and older. Walters anticipates an increase in this summer's camp participation. The camp will adopt a theme of "space, oceans, earth."

"The summer camp will be expanded at an additional building that NASA has provided," Walters said. "The camp area is surrounded by pristine forest and is just a short hike by trail to the Pearl River and the NASA recreation site."

Walters said the official okay is in place to open the "space, oceans, earth day" camp to children of non-Stennis parents this summer as spots are available.

A governor's appointee to the Mississippi task force for pre-K education and literacy, Walters spearheaded the university's proposal to Stennis. He also chairs the state's Department of Health child care licensure advisory council.

"Attention to early childhood learning is at a 'relatively emergent status' in Mississippi as compared to historic efforts elsewhere," Walters said. "A model early childhood learning center with a research component could serve as an agent for change and systemic improvement for the state as a whole while providing valuable experiences for children and their parents.

"The 'wow' of space and oceans can motivate even the youngest children to develop their natural openness for learning."

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

AA/EOE/ADAI