Assistant Professor, Special Education
Southern Illinois University Edwardsvill
Dr. Stacie M. Kirk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Dr. Kirk earned her Ph.D. in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Kansas. During her graduate training, she was a research assistant at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas. She has research and field experience in the areas of early intervention, early childhood special education, and childhood obesity, working specifically with disadvantaged and underserved communities, children and families over the past 10 years. Her current work is with Head Start, which has historically served children from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are at-risk for later developmental and academic concerns, working with teachers to implement a physical activity program across the preschool curriculum as a method to prevent childhood obesity and engage children in active learning.
The prevalence rate of at-risk for overweight (i.e., ≥85th percentile) among 2- to 5-year-old children in the United States was 26.2% and during the past 5 years, this rate has increased by 4.2%. Certain populations such as African American (AA), Hispanic, and children in low-income environments have had high prevalence rates for childhood obesity. As of 2008, over 60% of 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds were served in community preschool settings in the United States. Given the large number of children enrolled in preschool programs and the emerging trend of childhood obesity, such settings may be the critical context through which preventive health initiatives may be initiated. In addition to many health consequences associated with being overweight, limited research suggests that childhood obesity may contribute to developmental deficits in literacy and attention skills. Engagement in physical activity (PA) has been cited as a critical intervention in obesity prevention. Research also suggests a positive relationship between PA and academic achievement for school-age children. However, no research has been performed to investigate the effects of using PA on obesity prevention and development of early literacy in preschool-age children. The preschool classroom provides an ideal opportunity to consistently promote healthy behaviors which may improve early literacy development in a cost-effective manner. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine the effect of implementing a teacher-led PA program in Head Start programs on; 1) increasing activity levels, and 2) improving early literacy in AA preschool children. It is anticipated that the results from this study will help provide a basis for developing an effective and economical approach for treating overweight or obese AA children, a group at high risk of developing obesity and delays in early literacy development to be disseminated to other Head Start and childcare programs.
My New Connections Experience
The New Connections program offered an opportunity to receive funding as a junior scholar to help establish my research career. Also, the joint programming between New Connections and Active Living Research provided a unique opportunity to initiate my work with childhood obesity. Finally, the opportunity to collaborate with such a diverse group of scholars was another incentive to apply.
The funding I have received from the RWJF Active Living Research New Connections Program has impacted my career in several ways. This funding has provided a strong foundation for future success in scholarship, it has fostered respect and validation for my work, and has expanded the network of scholars with whom I can collaborate and learn from throughout my career. Finally, as a junior, minority investigator, the support of the RWJF New Connections and Active Living Research programs has allowed to me find my voice and contribute meaningfully to the prevention of childhood obesity.
My research interests lie primarily with the early childhood population (birth to 5 years of age) who have been diagnosed with or are at-risk for developmental delays. Specifically, my work focuses on using the preschool classroom to teach and encourage teacher-facilitated physical activity throughout the day in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle component and prevent childhood obesity, while also promoting early learning.
- New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
- Award Year: 2010 Active Learning Research (ALR)
- RWJF Team/Portfolio: Childhood Obesity
- Project Name: Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds: Promoting early literacy skills through teacher-directed physical activity.