April 2021

April 2021

When Passion Leads to Action: LSU is Transforming Early Childhood Education in Louisiana

April 21, 2021

In the twenty-plus years since I began in the field, research continuously shows us that the earliest period of life is when the most “brain building” occurs, and that this process is highly influenced by children’s early experiences (Bergen et al., 2020). Other research is clear that the critical component to a high-quality early childhood environment is the teacher (Whitebook et al., 2004); however, there are the least educational requirements and the lowest salaries for teachers working with the birth to three year old population.

Translation: Early childhood care and education matters. Early childhood teachers matter.

I began my career as an early intervention teacher of three to five-year-olds in public school. As a non-education major, I was concurrently taking coursework toward early intervention certification while teaching. My student teaching took place at the LSU Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) working in an inclusive infant/toddler program. 

And that was the moment. Working with children in an inclusive classroom ignited my deep passion for and commitment to early childhood. This newfound purpose fueled my interest in research, as I was desperate to identify exactly how the children were performing and what interventions should be implemented to aid in skill development. After completing my teaching certificate, I started working in the infant/toddler program at LSUHSC and continued in graduate school, seeking more information on intervention research. These academic and professional experiences began my life-long journey of wearing many hats: a classroom-based teacher, an early intervention provider in both the home and community-based childcare centers, and as a trainer/teacher for preservice and in-service teachers. In my heart of hearts, I remain a practitioner, who also conducts research.

My early experiences in the field stayed with me. I remember being the new teacher seeking the ‘best’ way to work with young children, pursuing information with a sense of urgency, recognizing that development in the early years forms the foundation for all future learning.  As higher education faculty, I am committed to educating students to have the same sense of urgency and commitment to being life-long learners in their pursuit of becoming early childhood teachers who will educate the next generation. One of the main reasons we pursued establishing the LSU Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool as a research and model demonstration program was to provide our students with relevant, hands-on experiences very early in their academic program, while also modeling high quality service to young children. The premise I try to instill in every future teacher boils down to this: we work every day to foster a lifelong love for learning in young children

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Asking Important Questions

LSU is so fortunate to have this living-learning laboratory on campus. The benefit to observing and even participating in recommended practices is hard to overstate; our pre-service teachers interact with the laboratory preschool children and teachers throughout their four years, gaining new insights and the ability to ask questions, design research, and communicate the results and impact for children and teachers. After years of this successful model at LSU, we began to ask, “How can we more effectively get this research into the hands of all practitioners?” The seeds of starting an institute were planted.

Sharing our Findings with Practitioners 

With the launch of the LSU Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI), we are increasing the visibility of early care and education in our state. The ECEI formalizes many existing relationships among early childhood researchers, providing a specific focus on birth to age three research, training, and advocacy. The ECEI seeks to unify and elevate the profession, while providing a collaborative space for all early childhood organizations in the state to maximize resources and effort. Research tells us that the returns to society far outweigh the costs of investing in early childhood education. In fact, “…one of the most efficient means to boost the productivity of the work force in 15 to 20 years is to invest in today’s youngest children.” (Grunewald, 2012, p. 1).

Elevating the Profession

Another strategy toward unifying the profession is the establishment of the Louisiana affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children - LAAEYC. For too long, Louisiana has not had a state chapter for our national organization. Through this network of early childhood professionals, we aim to increase the number of NAEYC accredited child care centers in the state and advocate for quality environments for young children and equitable compensation for early childhood teachers, while disseminating recommended practices research through professional development training to early childhood care and education providers in our state. We are the first university partnership with NAEYC, and we are excited to innovate and collaborate in service to our profession, families, and children of Louisiana.

Announcing the LSU Early Childhood Institute

Announcing the Louisiana Association for the Education of Young Children

The LSU Early Childhood Education Institute

gold circle clip art depicting three arms of the LSU Early Childhood Education Institute

The LSU ECEI is an umbrella for our many ideas and initiatives for moving the needle in early childhood care and education. Within the institute we have our laboratory preschool, professional development offerings call Inspiration Institute, and the Louisiana Association for the Education of Young Children.

The laboratory preschool on LSU's campus is one place where we conduct our research and give students in our academic programs in education, child and family studies, and other majors experience via internships, student-teaching, research, and more.

Professional Development Across Louisiana
We are working on an outstanding lineup of professional development offerings from five-minute tips to webinars, in-person and online and on-demand. We call this portfolio "Inspiration Institute" as we believe in giving teachers and directors the inspiration and tools they need to be successful as they care for our children. 

Advocacy for the Profession
This month, we are welcoming more than 500 Louisiana educators and professionals in early childhood care and education back "home" to our Louisiana affiliate of NAEYC. We hope you will join us for networking, professional development, and a community of peers who cares deeply for this profession.

Collaboration + Next Steps

In collaboration with existing networks of early childhood organizations in Louisiana, such as the Louisiana Early Childhood Association (LAECA), Child Care Association of Louisiana (CCAL), the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, and Louisiana Partnerships for Children and Families, the ECEI seeks to lend its voice to the collective conversation on the importance of early years education - the future is bright for young children in the state of Louisiana. 

We are actively building our faculty and community partners for the ECEI; simultaneously, our advisory council is helping us shape the structure and purpose for LAAEYC and drive membership. I invite each of you to join us. What are your burning questions for early childhood and care research? As a parent or guardian, what do you wish you knew more about for ages birth to three? Do you want to be involved, volunteer, learn more? Email us and check out the resource links below.

Banner hanging on fence outside early childhood lab preschool


It’s with a grateful heart that I’m writing this month’s issue for Best Practices. Dean Roland Mitchell has been a champion for the Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool since its inception; I also thank him for supporting our vision of how our flagship should serve the children, families, and teachers of our state. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the executive committee for the LSU Early Childhood Education Institute. Drs. Baumgartner, Harmeyer, and Wittenberg – thank you for your ideas, passion, and collaboration. I’m so excited for our future research and service together. I would like to thank the NAEYC team, for dreaming with us and creating new opportunities for the children and teachers in our state. Finally, I thank the LAAEYC advisory council for time, service, and expertise as we build this network for Louisiana.

As you saw in both announcement videos, this important work must be done together. I would like to thank Governor Edwards for shining a light on early childhood education and for making our field a priority for his term. Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley is another valued colleague. I thank him and the early childhood team for countless hours of strategy, collegiality, and collaboration toward focusing on early childhood education. Lastly, I’m humbled by the support for this work at LSU. Board of Supervisors President Robert Dampf, Interim President Tom Galligan, and Executive Vice President & Provost Stacia Haynie, thank you. Thank you for supporting our children during the most critical years of their lives, realizing that their journey to college and/or career begin at these crucial early times.



Written by: Cynthia DiCarlo, PhD

Cynthia Fontcuberta DiCarlo, PhD, holds the W.H. “Bill” LeBlanc LSU Alumni Association Departmental Endowed Professorship of Early Childhood Education and is the Executive Director of the Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool at LSU. DiCarlo also serves as the Coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Teacher Education Program and her research focuses on interventions to improve outcomes for young children and clarification and innovations in recommended practices in early childhood. Prior to joining LSU in 2004, she was a Clinical Assistant Professor at LSU Health Sciences Center (New Orleans). Dr. DiCarlo has been recognized for her research, teaching and service; her research on children's attention during whole group instruction received the 2012 Research Paper of the Year from the Journal of Research in Childhood Education; she was recognized for excellence in teaching receiving the Tiger Athletic Foundation Teaching Award (2010). Additionally, she has received recognition for her service, receiving the College of Human Sciences and Education Faculty Service Award (2016) and the Louisiana Champions of Service Volunteer of the Year: Plantation Region (2013). Dr. DiCarlo has incorporated her passion for research into the courses she teaches and her work in mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. Since its inception in 2014, Dr. DiCarlo has mentored 67 undergraduate students who have subsequently presented at LSU Discover Day. She currently serves on the editorial boards for Infants & Young Children and for the Journal of Teacher Action Research.