Dr. Mark Greenberg is a world-renowned expert on early childhood development. He holds The Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development. He is one of the pioneers in the field of social and emotional learning. Greenberg is also one of the developers of the PATHS curriculum, which is used in more than 20 countries to help children understand and manage difficult emotions. His research efforts now concentrate on the impact of poverty and the benefits of early intervention in troubled children’s lives.
Dr. Robert J. McMahon heads the new Institute for the Reduction of Youth Violence based at Simon Fraser University. He is also a Developmental Neurosciences and Child Health researcher with the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) in Vancouver. Prior to joining SFU and CFRI in mid-2010, Dr. McMahon’s primary research and clinical interests concerned the assessment, treatment, and prevention of conduct problems and other problem behaviour in youth, especially in the context of the family. He is a principal investigator on the Fast Track project, a large, multi-site, collaborative study on the prevention of antisocial behavior in school-aged children. Fast Track began in 1990 and continues today. It is the largest prevention trial of its type ever funded by the U.S. Federal government.
Dr. Tom Boyce, at UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership, focuses on the biology of Early Childhood Development. He’s currently studying the interplay between a child’s genes and their life experiences (epigenetics), seeking to understand how the exposure to early life trauma or stressors affects children’s long-term well-being. According to Boyce, “15–20 percent of children in any population is responsible for more than half of childhood illnesses and more than half of pediatric health care use. These children are more susceptible to injuries and common illnesses like colds but also more susceptible to major behavioural problems and mental health issues later in life. Other children will have none of these problems.” Boyce has been able to show the impact of poverty on a developing child’s brain. He has shown us that poor children are at much greater risk of developing a whole range of physical and mental deficits. He is also the principal developer of the “orchid children” hypothesis, a way to describe children who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.
Dr. Joe Sparling is one of the original developers of the Abecedarian program at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in North Carolina. The program was founded in the 1970s to help very poor, mostly black, children who were struggling in school. The Abecedarian Project was one of the first carefully controlled scientific studies of the potential benefits of early childhood education for poor children. One group of children from low-income families received full-time, high-quality educational intervention in a childcare setting from infancy through age 5, while the other group did not. Thirty years later, by almost every measure, the kids enrolled in the first Abecedarian program have done remarkably better in life than those who were not enrolled. Canada’s first Abecedarian program has been set up at a play school in Lord Selkirk Park in Winnipeg, serving mostly First Nations families.
James J. Heckman is a Nobel Prize winner and professor of economics at the University of Chicago. He’s an expert in the economics of early childhood development. His groundbreaking work has proven that investing in early childhood pays very real financial dividends for society. Heckman counsels world leaders on the benefits of programs like North Carolina's Abecedarian intervention and has even been to China to discuss the possibility of delivering high-quality early childhood education to millions of Chinese children. Dr. Heckman's new book, The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life, is in bookstores now.
Dr. Dennis Embry champions the PAX Good Behaviour Game, a classroom-based program played by children in the early elementary grades. PAX is proven to reduce bad behaviour in the short term and lead to a much better quality of life in the long term. The PAX Game teaches children self-control by rewarding them for staying on task for small periods of time. The concept is simple: during regular classroom work, children are divided into teams and the teams compete to see which can behave best for longest. The team that wins gets a wacky prize - perhaps permission to run in the hall for a minute. Over 20 published studies on the effects of the PAX Good Behavior Game found decreased aggression, reduced ADHD symptoms, decreased drug and tobacco use and decreased criminal behavior. Dennis Embry, PhD is the CEO/president of PAXIS Institute in Tucson, and co-investigator at the Center on Prevention and Early Intervention at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Michael Meaney is one of the first researchers to describe how maternal care influences genes, particularly genes that regulate stress response. Dr. Meaney and his team are conducting studies examining the molecular mechanisms by which maternal care alters not strictly the genes but the way the genes express themselves, affecting neuron growth, function, and health. Meaney is the associate director of Douglas Research Centre, a University Institute in Mental Health. He is a James McGill Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurosurgery as well the Director of the Program for the Study of Behaviour, Genes and the Environment at McGill University in Montreal.