Terri Sabol Wants to Help Nation's Neediest Children Through Research and Policy

Terri SabolTerri Sabol, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Curry School Risk and Prevention in Education Sciences Program, researches ways to improve the lives of disadvantaged students, focusing on early childhood education.

Her interest stems from her high school years when she volunteered in a Chicago inner-city school. She became perplexed by the differences in her own education versus what she observed about twenty miles away.

Later, Sabol taught first grade on the South Side of Chicago through the Teach for America program. Her children inspired her, but she felt challenged by the school’s lack of resources for both students and teachers. She also became increasingly concerned about her students’ skill level. “I felt frustrated by the large achievement gap my children exhibited the moment they walked through my door,” she said.

She began to think about teacher training in general and the potential she could have for change. “I think that’s translated to my work,” she said. “You can move out of the classroom while still keeping a foot in it by trying to help though research and policy changes.”

Sabol decided to pursue research at the Curry School, known for its Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), which focuses on improving the effectiveness of teachers. There, she works closely with her two advisors, Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School and director of CASTL, and Jim Wyckoff, the director of the Center for Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness.

“A big part of the CASTL program is to gradually mentor graduate students to become young scientists themselves,” Mr. Pianta said. “Terri is the ideal student. She’s really sharp.”

Sabol has come into her own as a researcher. She studies early childhood programs from a holistic perspective, with a keen focus on improving teacher-child interactions within the classroom. Recently, she received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate the Star Quality Initiative, the only system to rate and improve childcare quality in Virginia. As one way to measure center quality, the Star Quality Initiative specifically assesses the strength of teacher-child interactions. Sabol is examining the scope of system, especially the ways it affects children’s language and literacy skills.

Sabol hopes to devote her career to improving outcomes for disadvantaged students. “When I think about my children in Chicago, I try to think about what would have better prepared them for school. I think that anything I can do in research that can better inform that and then be translated into policy would be really exciting. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Terri Talks About Investing in Early Childhood Education (video)