Early Childhood Education Program Honored for Innovation, Nominated for Statewide Award

A sign at one of the RPC's Early Childhood Education Centers

The Illinois Head Start Association’s (IHSA) Innovative Bright Practices project named the RPC’s Early Childhood Education program as its monthly winner in February. The project highlights programs that are using innovative and creative strategies, in this case the RPC’s creation of the Social Skills and Prevention Coach role. Performing this role for the RPC are Andrew Hulten at the Urbana Early Childhood Education Center, Jennifer Spain at the Savoy Early Childhood Education Center, and Camille Bookter at the Rantoul Early Childhood Education Center.

As the monthly winner, the RPC’s Early Childhood Education program is automatically nominated for the annual Vanessa Rich Innovative Award, which will be presented at the IHSA Annual Conference in March. There is more information about the RPC’s honor on the IHSA website, from which the following is adapted:

Initiated in the fall of 2018, Champaign County Head Start designed new a role—the Social Skills and Prevention Coach. Through generous funding from the Champaign County Mental Health Board, we have been able to hire three new staff to fill this role. An Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant supervises the new staff, housed at three of our sites.

Prioritizing prevention, the coaches provide ongoing Practice Based Coaching focused on the Pyramid Model’s social-emotional skills and indicators. They provide strength-based reflective support for staff, collect behavior-related data, build relationships with families, and help anticipate the need for preventative transition support for students. The coaches also facilitate the social-emotional development of students through guidance lessons focused on social skills, friendship groups, push-in individual positive behavior modeling, and de-escalation support when necessary.

Within two months of filling the new positions, we doubled the number of children served within the previous year’s first quarter, while more than doubling the amount of services and supports these children, families, and teachers have received.

Beyond numbers, we have seen improvements in individual children’s social and emotional skills, such as the ability to calm down and self-regulate, the ability to share and take turns, and the ability to communicate about their feelings. We have also seen improvement in staff morale and engagement.

The IHSA calls Innovative Bright Practices a place where they will spotlight innovative ideas from the Head Start and Early Head Start community. These innovative practices will offer this community an opportunity to see, listen, and learn about bright ideas happening across the state. They hope to stimulate or “plant a seed” from where other programs can take an idea and make it their own, because innovation is the key to professional success.


  1. Jennifer says:

    Hooray! This is awesome news. I know at Urbana we are so excited to have Andy as our social emotional coach!

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