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October 30, 2023

University of Oklahoma Faculty Receive $1.8 Million Grant from Environmental Protection Agency to Study Children’s Health Related to Chemical Exposures

OU researchers have received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a research center to address children’s cumulative health impacts from agricultural and non-chemical exposures. This grant will create the Children’s Environmental Health Center in the U.S. Southern Great Plains, which includes Oklahoma and Texas. The Center will focus on mitigating the chemical and non-chemical stressors that affect school absenteeism caused by gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.

This collaborative center will be under the direction of Changjie Cai, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the Hudson College of Public Health on OU’s Health Sciences Center campus; Diane Horm, Ph.D., director of the Early Childhood Education Institute at OU-Tulsa; and Dan Li, Ph.D. from the University of North Texas College of Education.

Research has shown that children in underserved, rural, and agricultural communities face increased health risks due to the combination of agricultural pollutants in the air, water, and soil, as well as non-chemical stressors such as poverty and limited access to health services. This project addresses an urgent need to investigate the cumulative health impacts of chemical and non-chemical exposures for children in these communities to help keep children healthy.

“Our team will investigate the cumulative health impacts of early exposure to pollutants and the added effect of non-chemical stressors among children in these communities across the United States,” Cai said. “The goal of the Center is to reduce the environmental health disparities and promote environmental justice for children living in underserved, rural agricultural communities.”

Through a multidisciplinary approach, the center will use techniques such as low-cost sensors, satellite observations, air quality modeling and more to establish and evaluate impact assessments. Utilizing those results, affordable interventions will be assessed to reduce school absenteeism and address health disparities.

“At the Early Childhood Education Institute, it has always been our goal to advance and support equity for all children through research,” Horm said. “The opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Cai, Dr. Li, and others on this grant to establish the Children’s Health and Social Vulnerability Index (CHS) will allow us to better assess children’s health disparities in rural schools.”

The CHS will be stakeholder-and data-driven and will focus on children’s health disparities in rural school systems and focus on chemical and non-chemical stressors that lead to absenteeism in school due to gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.

This research grant is part of EPA’s larger effort to advance children’s environmental health and environmental justice by effectively reducing early childhood and lifetime health disparities in these communities. 

“This collaboration of OU researchers from various disciplines highlights OU’s commitment to supporting our faculty researchers so that they can deliver science-based recommendations to improve the lives of our youngest learners,” said Darrin Akins, vice president for research at the OU Health Sciences Center. “This research will have a strong focus on chemical and non-chemical environmental stressors that children in the Southern Great Plains face every day.”

October 24, 2023


The ECEI's own Diane Horm was one of the featured speakers at the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women's Summit, “Navigating the Child Care Crisis: A Barrier to Women’s Economic Opportunity”, on Tuesday, October 24.

The goal of the conference was to highlight the need for expanded child care to support both families and economic development, especially for women. Many speakers discussed the rationale for expanding childcare and family-friendly workplace policies. Horm’s unique contribution was to highlight the importance of quality child care in this important discussion. She reviewed research findings showing the long-term positive impacts on young children who experienced high-quality childcare as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Myae Han presents Diane with her award

April 2023

Horm recognized for contributions to education field

ECEI Director Dr. Diane Horm received the Distinguished Contribution to Research Award from the Early Education and Child Development Special Interest Group (EE/CD SIG) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). This award is given annually and recognizes an individual who has contributed nationally and internationally to the field of early education and child development.

“Under Horm’s innovative leadership, the ECEI has gone from an idea to a visible, viable research group employing more than 30 people, and engaging in cutting edge early childhood research, grants, and publications,” said Myae Han, past chair of the EE/CD SIG. “Perhaps the most important impact that Diane has had on the field of early education and child development has been through her mentorship of students and newer colleagues as well as her ability to collaborate with others in the field.”

Diane was presented her award during the AERA annual meeting in Chicago in April 2023. Congratulations!

January 31, 2023

Horm discusses new study on early childhood education

Our very own Dr. Diane Horm was featured on KOTV - News On 6 to discuss the recent Early Childhood Education Institute at OU-Tulsa study that has so many people across Oklahoma and the US talking. See the story here .

January 9, 2023

ECEI's latest publication featured in Tulsa World

We’re pleased to announce that “Kindergarten through Grade 3 Outcomes Associated with Participation in High-Quality Early Care and Education: A RCT Follow-Up Study” was featured in the Tulsa World on January 9, 2023. The Tulsa Educare Follow Up Study provides some answers about the impacts of a high-quality early childhood education program starting in infancy. Read the full article here

Congratulations to our researchers who led the study and conducted analyses of the study results — Dr. Diane Horm, Dr. Shinyoung Jeon, Moira Clavijo and Melissa Acton. Thanks to George Kaiser Family Foundation and our partners at Tulsa Educare for their support of this project. OU-Tulsa OU Education.

March 23, 2022

Big Idea Challenge Year One Update

Our Big Idea Challenge co-investigators Drs. Sherri Castle and Connie Chapple were featured in a recent Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships' newsletter. Their "Well-Being Across the Lifespan: Early Childhood Experiences and Opportunities in Oklahoma" is investigating adverse childhood experiences, food and child-care deserts, criminal justice contact, social isolation, mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and early mortality across Oklahoma with the goal of developing practice and policy solutions.

Drs. Castle and Chapple (along with their transdisciplinary team) recently completed the first year of the study and they have some updates for us. Check out the video update here.

The What and Why of Child Assessments. What you need to know.

February 11, 2022

Watch: Sherri Castle's Presentations to the NHSA

Dr. Sherri Castle recently led two presentations for the National Head Start Association’s “The What and Why of Child Assessments.”

The four-part webinar series was designed to provide a better understanding of the types of child assessments, why they are conducted, and how programs can choose the best assessments for them.

The webinar series is part of an effort from NHSA’s Senior Director of Data, Victoria Jones. As she points out here, Head Start Program Performance Standards require programs to use child assessments but they don’t require or recommend any specific tools. That often means educators are responsible for choosing, administering, interpreting, and using the results of child assessments.

Castle said that a lot of programs will use the same assessment but will use it in ways that are outside the boundaries of what that data will support.

“These webinars let us provide technical information to help these programs equip themselves to make the best decisions to support children,” she said

Session 1 – Child Assessments in Early Head Start

Session 2 – Child Assessments in Head Start


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