The Team

Meet the team: Leaders in the science and education sectors with a breadth of experience studying, honing, and applying the science of how children learn.

Executive Team

  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek

    Temple University

    Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D. is the Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy, the role of play in learning and learning and technology. She is the author of 16 books and hundreds of publications, has won numerous awards in her field and was inducted into the National Academy of Education. Co-founder of the global Learning Science Exchange Fellowship, she brings together scientists, journalists, policy makers and entertainers, to put learning science in the hands of educators. Her newest initiative, Playful Learning Landscapes, reimagines cities and public squares as places with science infused designs that enhance academicand social opportunities. Vested in translating science for lay and professional audiences, her Becoming Brilliant, released in 2016 was on the NYTimes Best Seller List in Education.Her most recent book, Making Schools Work, was released in October of 2022.

  • Kimberly Nesbitt

    University of New Hampshire

    Kim Nesbitt, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of New Hampshire. Her research focuses on the development of cognition in early childhood, with a particular focus on identifying instructional practices that support young children from diverse backgrounds to learn and achieve in early education environments. Dr. Nesbitt has a rich background in multidisciplinary and cross-site collaborative research and has collaborated on large-scale, longitudinal, federally-funded grants examining issues related to the development and education of young children. Her work can be seen in both psychology and education journals including the Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Educational Psychology, and Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Dr. Nesbitt’s teaching and outreach aim to support early childhood educators through preservice and in-service professional learning. She is also dedicated to improving the quality of early childhood education through research-practice partnerships with schools and community organizations.

  • Margaret (Peg) Burchinal

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Peg Burchinal is a leading researcher and statistician in child care research, and a widely recognized applied statistician. She has authored or co-authored more than 150 papers published in peer-reviewed journals, including Child Development, Developmental Psychology, American Psychologist, and Science. She currently leads one of the IES Early ChildhoodNetwork research studies and co-leads an adult follow-up of the Abecedarian Project and an OPRE study designed to manipulate different dimensions of quality (Variations in Quality Improvement). She has served as a lead statistician for landmark early education studies, including the Abecedarian Project, Cost, Quality and Outcomes Study, NICHD Study of Early Child and Youth Development, National Center for Early Development and Learning Pre-kindergarten Study, and the Educare Learning Network, and evaluations of state pre-kindergarten programs, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, and Head Start Designation Renewal System.

  • Andres Bustamante

    University of California, Irvine

    Dr. Andres Bustamante is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Irvine’s School of Education. He designs and implements play-based early childhood STEM interventions inplaces and spaces that children and families spend time (e.g., parks, school yards, grocery stores etc.). He maintains an intentional focus on translating rigorous science from the lab, into meaningful research in the classroom, and the community. Andres is invested in research that has practicalimplications for school and life success for the children and families that need it the most. He is also committed to sharing and interpreting early childhood research with a broader audience through blog posts for the Brookings InstitutionHuffington PostBOLD Blog, and other media outlets.

  • Dale Farran

    Vanderbilt University

    Dr. Dale Farran is an emerita professor at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Farran has been involved in research and intervention for high-risk children and youth for all of her professional career. She has conducted research at the Frank Porter Graham Child DevelopmentCenter in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the Kamehameha Schools Early Education Project in Hawaii. Dr. Farran is the editor of two books both dealing with risk and poverty, the author of more than 90 journal articles and book chapters and a regular presenter at national conferences. Her recent research emphasis is on evaluating the effectiveness of alternative preschool curricula for preparing children from low-income families to transition successfully to school and longitudinal follow up for long-term effects. Currently she is directing an evaluation of the Stateof Tennessee’s Prekindergarten program. Most recently she has been involved in identifying early childhood classroom practices most facilitative of children’s outcomes, including coaching tools to improve practice.

  • Roberta Golinkoff

    University of Delaware

    Roberta Golinkoff , Ph.D. is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education at the University of Delaware, is a well-known developmental psychologist who was recently elected to the National Academy of Education. She is also committed to bringingthe science of learning out to the public as in Playful Learning Landscapes, that marries architectural design and the science of learning to embed physical installations in communities for informal learning. She also created the QUILS trio – screeners to identify children with language problems. Her last book, Becoming Brilliant reached the NYTimes best-seller list.

  • Tara Hofkens

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Tara Hofkens is a Research Assistant Professor at the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning Science and Policy and an M.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, and a decade of experience in biobehavioral research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Her research focuses on how the social and affective processes involved in teaching and learning contribute to development and learning in school. Specifically, she applies her expertise in student engagement learning science and background in stress physiology to study the dynamics of engagement and social interactions in school, and how classroom experiences contribute to developmental and educational trajectories from early childhood through adolescence.

  • Susan Levine

    University of Chicago

    Dr. Susan Levine is the Rebecca Anne Boylan Distinguished Service Professor of Education and Society in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, joining the faculty after receiving her Ph.D. in Psychology at M.I.T. Her research focuses on early spatial and numerical thinking and how they relate to each other. She is particularly interested in the malleability of mathematical thinking and the kinds of adult-child interactions that foster learning in these domains, both at home and at school. In lab studies, she examines the development of children’s understanding of natural number and fractions and interventions that support this development. In addition, her research examines the relation of math achievement and math attitudes in children, and how the math attitudes of parents and teachers impact children’s math outcomes.

  • Robert Pianta

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Robert Pianta is the Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education, Professor ofPsychology, and founding director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. Dr. Pianta‘s research and policy interests focus on the intersection of education and human development. In particular his work has advanced conceptualization and measurement of teacher-student relationships and documented their contributions to students’ learning anddevelopment. Dr. Pianta has led research and development on measurement tool and interventions that help teachers interact with students more effectively and that are used widely in the United States and around the world. He is past Editor of the Journal of School Psychology and associate editor for AERA Open. An internationally recognized expert in both early childhood education and K-12 teaching and learning, Dr. Pianta regularly consults with federal agencies, foundations, universities, and governments. He was named a Fellow of the American Education Research Association and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota in 2016. Dr. Pianta served as Dean of the UVA School of Education of Human Development from 2007-2022 and remains a member of the faculty.

  • Deborah Lowe Vandell

    University of California, Irvine

    Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell is Chancellor’s Professor and Founding Dean Emerita of Education at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to these appointments, she was the Sears Bascom Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The author of more than 150 articles and three books, Professor Vandell’s research focuses on the effects of developmental contexts (early child care, schools, after-school programs, families, neighborhoods) on children’s social, behavioral, and academic functioning. As one of the principal investigators with the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, she has conducted an intensive study of the development of 1300 children from birth to 26 years. This work isviewed by many social scientists as one of the most comprehensive studies of the short-termand long-term effects of early care and education to date. Professor Vandell also studies the effects of after-school programs, extracurricular activities and unsupervised out-of-school settings on child and adolescent development, with a particular focus on low-income childrenof color. This body of work is widely cited as evidence of the academic and social benefits of afterschool programs and activities. Professor Vandell has been recognized by the Society for Research in Child Development for Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy and Practice in Child Development. She has served as President of Division 7 (Developmental Psychology) of the American Psychological Associations and as a member of the Governing Council of SRCD. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association of Psychological Science, and the American Educational Research Association.

  • Annie Wright

    Southern Methodist University

    Dr. Annie Wright is the Executive Director for Southern Methodist University’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE). She is a Clinical Community psychologist and a program evaluator. Her expertise is in the planning, implementation and evaluation of K-12 educational programming. She works with a range of educational settings, including districts, schools, and out of school time non-profits. She has a particular interest in the work of community coalitions focused on educational reform and systems level change. Dr. Wright pays particular attention to both community and implementation science principles in order to inform effective programming. Within educational settings, her content expertise covers social & emotional learning, technology as a pedagogical tool, afterschool and STEM programming, pre-kindergarten programs, and programming within museums and other informal learning settings. Related content areas Dr. Wright has worked on include adolescent pregnancy and underage drinking prevention. Her responsibilities as the Executive Director include ensuring the quality and rigor of all CORE projects and facilitating smooth collaboration with program staff, funders, and other evaluation partners. Dr. Wright is also responsible for developing complex, yet feasible, process and outcome evaluation plans, multiple forms of data collection, management, analysis, report writing and presentations, in addition to coordinating CORE’s evaluation team.

Executive Director & Associate Director

  • Shelly Kessler

    Temple University

    Shelly Kessler is a senior executive/management consultant with deep expertise in nonprofit leadership and management; business planning for mission-based organizations; and strategic philanthropy; as well as trained facilitator. She has worked with numerous nonprofit start-ups, established nonprofits, philanthropies, and corporate social responsibility programs. Kessler founded SKConsultants, LLC in 2013 after 13 years as a Partner and Director of Nonprofit Services a TCC Group, a national consulting firm. Previously, she spent 10 years with CARE, USA, as Program Director in India and Regional Manager of Asia Programs. In 2017, she become the first Executive Director of Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network, PLLAN, which emerged from the scientific work of Drs. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff and was premised on the science of how children learn. Kessler has written about and presented numerous workshops on strategic and business planning for mission focused organizations nationally including podcasts on Adaptive Leadership for Nonprofits and Transformational Strategic Planning. Shelly received her master’s degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Brown University. Currently, Shelly is a member of the board of Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network, a national exploration of how children learn and grow and Chair of the Board of Harpswell Foundation, a women’s leadership program based in Cambodia.

  • Molly Scott

    Temple University

    Dr. Molly Scott is the Associate Director of APL and a research scientist at the Temple Infant & Child Lab examining the impact of on-going playful learning projects. Before this, she was the Goldberg Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the NEED Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University. Working on the Baby’s First Years project, the first randomized controlled trial examining the impact of poverty reduction on family wellbeing and children’s developmental outcomes, Molly led the piloting and training of the Age 4 data collection wave on a national scale. She received her PhD at the Temple Infant and Child Lab working with Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. During her time at Temple, she worked on the Language for Reading project, a multi-state educational intervention focused on increasing the vocabulary ability of preschoolers from disadvantaged backgrounds through shared book reading and playful learning activities. Her dissertation study was conducted in Head Start preschools and examined how improving the categorization abilities of young children can create more meaningful vocabulary learning experiences. Molly has also been a Fellow in the Temple Public Policy Lab and served as a co-chair of the Columbia University Postdoctoral Society translating scientific journal articles from a multitude of disciplines for broader audiences. Her interests include using principles from the science of learning to improve pedagogies in the classroom, and translating developmental science for parents, teachers, policy makers, and other stakeholders.

Methods & Analysis Team

  • Margaret (Peg) Burchinal

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Peg Burchinal is a leading researcher and statistician in child care research, and a widely recognized applied statistician. She has authored or co-authored more than 150 papers published in peer-reviewed journals, including Child Development, Developmental Psychology, American Psychologist, and Science. She currently leads one of the IES Early ChildhoodNetwork research studies and co-leads an adult follow-up of the Abecedarian Project and an OPRE study designed to manipulate different dimensions of quality (Variations in Quality Improvement). She has served as a lead statistician for landmark early education studies, including the Abecedarian Project, Cost, Quality and Outcomes Study, NICHD Study of Early Child and Youth Development, National Center for Early Development and Learning Pre-kindergarten Study, and the Educare Learning Network, and evaluations of state pre-kindergarten programs, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, and Head Start Designation Renewal System.

  • Dale Farran

    Vanderbilt University

    Dr. Dale Farran is an emerita professor at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Farran has been involved in research and intervention for high-risk children and youth for all of her professional career. She has conducted research at the Frank Porter Graham Child DevelopmentCenter in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the Kamehameha Schools Early Education Project in Hawaii. Dr. Farran is the editor of two books both dealing with risk and poverty, the author of more than 90 journal articles and book chapters and a regular presenter at national conferences. Her recent research emphasis is on evaluating the effectiveness of alternative preschool curricula for preparing children from low-income families to transition successfully to school and longitudinal follow up for long-term effects. Currently she is directing an evaluation of the Stateof Tennessee’s Prekindergarten program. Most recently she has been involved in identifying early childhood classroom practices most facilitative of children’s outcomes, including coaching tools to improve practice.

LEGO Partner

  • Patricia Castanheira

    LEGO Foundation

    Dr. Patricia Castanheira, Senior Research Specialist at the LEGO Foundation, has dedicated over two decades to understanding the intricacies of effective teaching and learning. Her passion lies at the intersection of research, global collaboration, and child-centered education. With a PhD in Educational Leadership, Patricia has explored diverse educational contexts throughout her career. In the past decade, Patricia’s research has focused on teacher professional development and the impact teachers’ learning has on students’ development.  Together with global partners, Patricia supports the design of teacher professional development resources that foster playful learning by turning research data and theoretical frameworks into actionable insights. These resources empower teachers to create engaging, student-centered classrooms. Patricia’s journey began as a teacher herself. She vividly remembers the joys and struggles of the classroom and uses this passion to inform her research. In the APL study, Patricia serves as the LEGO Foundation’s representative.

State Partners (CALIFORNIA)

  • Andres Bustamante

    University of California, Irvine

    Dr. Andres Bustamante is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Irvine’s School of Education. He designs and implements play-based early childhood STEM interventions inplaces and spaces that children and families spend time (e.g., parks, school yards, grocery stores etc.). He maintains an intentional focus on translating rigorous science from the lab, into meaningful research in the classroom, and the community. Andres is invested in research that has practicalimplications for school and life success for the children and families that need it the most. He is also committed to sharing and interpreting early childhood research with a broader audience through blog posts for the Brookings InstitutionHuffington PostBOLD Blog, and other media outlets.

  • Deborah Lowe Vandell

    University of California, Irvine

    Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell is Chancellor’s Professor and Founding Dean Emerita of Education at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to these appointments, she was the Sears Bascom Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The author of more than 150 articles and three books, Professor Vandell’s research focuses on the effects of developmental contexts (early child care, schools, after-school programs, families, neighborhoods) on children’s social, behavioral, and academic functioning. As one of the principal investigators with the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, she has conducted an intensive study of the development of 1300 children from birth to 26 years. This work isviewed by many social scientists as one of the most comprehensive studies of the short-termand long-term effects of early care and education to date. Professor Vandell also studies the effects of after-school programs, extracurricular activities and unsupervised out-of-school settings on child and adolescent development, with a particular focus on low-income childrenof color. This body of work is widely cited as evidence of the academic and social benefits of afterschool programs and activities. Professor Vandell has been recognized by the Society for Research in Child Development for Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy and Practice in Child Development. She has served as President of Division 7 (Developmental Psychology) of the American Psychological Associations and as a member of the Governing Council of SRCD. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association of Psychological Science, and the American Educational Research Association.

  • Laura Hernandez

    University of California, Irvine
    Laura has an educational background in child development, psychology, and neuroscience. Early in her career, she spent over 8 years working in the classroom with young students. Following her interest in psychology and neuroscience, she partnered with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) in California as their programming specialist, where she was actively involved in the grand opening of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Mental Health Inpatient Center, the first pediatric inpatient facility in Orange County designed to meet the unique needs of patients younger than 12. She subsequently became the Child Life Activity Specialist for The Disney Children’s Hospital Initiative, a program designed to reimagine the patient journey in children’s hospitals. She helped redesign CHOC through the incorporation of visually stunning large-scale wall art, augmented reality content through the Disney Team of Heroes app, digital screens, themed gowns, care packages, toy deliveries, Disney movie moments, and Disney institute training. After spending over 5 years in a clinical setting, she noticed a connection between disparities in educational opportunities for young children and its profound effects on psychological development. For the last three years, Laura has been conducting qualitative and quantitative research with the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine.  She is interested in executive function-based research in early childhood education and pursuing a PhD in Education with a focus on cognitive and socio-emotional development.

State Partners (ILLINOIS)

  • Susan Levine

    University of Chicago

    Dr. Susan Levine is the Rebecca Anne Boylan Distinguished Service Professor of Education and Society in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, joining the faculty after receiving her Ph.D. in Psychology at M.I.T. Her research focuses on early spatial and numerical thinking and how they relate to each other. She is particularly interested in the malleability of mathematical thinking and the kinds of adult-child interactions that foster learning in these domains, both at home and at school. In lab studies, she examines the development of children’s understanding of natural number and fractions and interventions that support this development. In addition, her research examines the relation of math achievement and math attitudes in children, and how the math attitudes of parents and teachers impact children’s math outcomes.

  • Debbie Leslie

    University of Chicago

    Debbie Leslie is Director of Education Outreach and Director of Early Childhood Initiatives at UChicago STEM Education. After graduating from Yale University with a BA in Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics, Debbie received an MST from the University of Chicago, and loved being an early childhood classroom teacher for 11 years. At UChicago STEM Education, Debbie draws on her interests and expertise in early learning, professional development and classroom coaching,curriculum development, organizational leadership, and family supports to work on a wide range of projects. Recent projects include collaborating with UChicago faculty on a family-facing early math website and an early math assessment, developing and supporting early childhood STEM projects and programs for teachers and families, partnering with MathTalk PBC on their publicinstallations and apps, teaching methods courses to pre-service teachers in the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program, leading the Everyday Mathematics early childhood team, and engaging in long-term partnerships with schools to improve teaching and learning school-wide. With colleagues at Erikson University, Debbiewas part of the group that convened the Early Childhood STEM Working Group and produced the Early STEM Matters report. She is also working on her PhD in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a focus oncollaborative, peer-to- peer professional learning for teachers.

  • Rebecca (Becky) Criollo

    University of Chicago

    Becky Criollo is a School Support Manager and Curriculum Developer with UChicago STEM Education. She taught dual language Kindergarten and 1st grade for ten years in the Chicago Public Schools. She has provided professional development for teachers on a variety of math topics in schools around Chicago and across the country. Becky provides long-term coaching support for elementary math teachers and works with math leadership teams to develop and achieve goals to improve mathematics teaching and learning. She has worked on the Everyday Mathematics author team and with the Ready, Set, STEM! team to work with teachers to brig early childhood STEM projects to students and families. Becky holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry-Biology and Spanish from Ripon College and a Master of Arts in Reading from Concordia University Chicago. She holds ESL and bilingual endorsements.

  • Cheryl Moran

    University of Chicago
    Moran is a veteran classroom teacher and has extensive curriculum and professional development experience. She is the current director of the Everyday Mathematics Virtual Learning Community project – a sustainable online professional development community developed for teachers by teachers that is used by over 64,000 educators. She is also a member of the Ready, Set, STEM team which develops and supports STEM curriculum for Prek and Kgn students. Additionally, Moran leads the CryptoClub project which brings cryptography to middle-school children. Moran has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master’s degree in teaching. In her free time, Moran enjoys spending time with her husband, four adult children, and two dogs, reading, and hiking.

State Partners (TEXAS)

  • Margaret Owen

    University of Texas at Dallas

    Dr. Margaret Owen is a leading researcher in the areas of parent-child and caregiver-child relationships and young children’s development in the context of these and other close relationships. Some of her recent research focuses on how the qualities of parent-toddler communication lay a foundation for successful language learning. She has collaborated with a large team translating these findings into interventions with parents and child-care providers tosupport low-income children’s language success. In another large collaborative effort, she is studying individual, family, and contextual factors contributing to risk and resilience in the development of school readiness and school achievement in a longitudinal study of low- income, African American and Latina children in Dallas, now spanning from toddlerhood through middle school. Dr. Owen previously studied the effects of maternal employment and child care on children’s development, from infancy through adolescence as an investigator on the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development throughout its multiple phases. Dr. Owen is the Director of the UT Dallas Center for Children and Families. She is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and has received the Rueben Hill Award from the National Council on Family Relations and the Margaret Cone Impact Award of the Dallas Association for the Education of Young Children.

  • Toni Harrison-Kelly

    Southern Methodist University

    Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly is the Executive Director of The Budd Center at Simmons College of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. The focus of The Budd Center is involving communities in education through two primary mechanisms of action– convening cross-sector organizations to form partnerships that multiply the positive impact on schools and equipping these partners with the tools they need to maximize their effectiveness. Dr. Harrison-Kelly is a sixteen-year, pre-K through twelve exemplary teaching veteran andeducation consultant, having worked with a variety of community partners, including KERA, the Dallas-area PBS affiliate, and trained over 1,800 parents and teachers across the country to date. Dr. Harrison-Kelly earned her Doctor of Education degree in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University, where she researched using gamification to increase student engagement in historically under-resourced middle schools. Additionally, Dr. Harrison-Kelly is the Co- Founder andManaging Partner of School Leadership for Social Justice, her nonprofit equity consultancy created to support schools in their racial diversity and equity efforts.

  • Dylan Farmer

    Southern Methodist University

    Dylan Farmer is the Assistant Director of Strategic Partners at the Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE). Dylan focuses on developing client relationships with key community public school, nonprofit and philanthropic partners. In addition, Dylan oversees a portfolio of research and evaluation projects, primarily focusing in the areas of early childhood education and after-school and summer programming. Past projects include the development of computer adaptive assessments, collective impact evaluation, program development, program feasibility and effectiveness studies, Item Response Theory, and concurrent and predictive validity studies. Dylan has developed a passion for collaboration with community partners and leveraging partnership, data interoperability, legal infrastructure, and formative evaluation to create systems for data-informed continuous improvement aimed at helping youth and families in underserved communities gain access to quality education and social-sector program services. In addition tobeing a certified EC-6 classroom teacher, she is proficient in program evaluation, advanced quantitative research methods, instrument design, large-scale data collection, database management, and programming language for statistical data analysis.

  • Taylor Johnson

    Southern Methodist University

    Taylor Johnson works as the Research Coordinator for the Dallas Active Playful Learning site at Southern Methodist University’s Center on Research and Evaluation. Prior to her role in education research at CORE, Taylor worked for twelve years as an elementary teacher and math instructional coach at Dallas ISD. Through her classroom experience and work supporting teachers, she has seen that meaningful and engaging learning experiences lead to deeper understanding and better outcomes for students. Taylor earned her undergraduate degree from Boston College and her graduate degree in math curriculum and instruction from Southern Methodist University. Taylor started her career in education as a Teach for America Corp member and has written curriculum for educational technology companies and provided consultation on school districts’ curriculum plans and instructional coaching practices for a non-profit organization aimed at improving low-income school districts.

  • Renee Llanes

    Southern Methodist University

    An educator of 20 years, Renee Llanes has served as a teacher, interventionist, researcher and instructional coach. Renee obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. In 2018, she earned her Master’s Degree in Education from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. During her time at SMU, Renee worked as a reading interventionist on Project Voyager Passport: Exploring Response to Intervention with a focus on students receiving Tier 3 and Special Education for Reading Disabilities. This project, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, aimed to identify and examine a key set of variables that were associated with outcomes for students in Tier 3 or in special education with reading disabilities.

    Additionally, she was part of a team of researchers funded by the National Institute of Health seeking to examine a reading intervention for fourth-grade students with reading disabilities that integrated the psychosocial component of mindset with the academic component of reading.

    In her most recent position as an instructional coach, she utilized coaching models to develop teacher capacity, designed, facilitated, and led professional learning for teachers, administrators, and district partners. In addition to being a certified EC-4 classroom teacher, she is a certified PreK-3 Teachstone CLASS observer and has successfully completed Results Coaching Global program levels I and II.

    Renee recently joined the Center on Research and Evaluation at Southern Methodist University. In her work for CORE, she serves as the lead instructional coach for the Active Playful Learning (APL) Research Study.

  • Martha Velez

    Southern Methodist University

    Prior to joining the Texas APL team as COPTOP observer, Martha spent 16 years in education. She spent 14 years with Irving ISD as an Elementary Bilingual Teacher and as an Elementary Bilingual Special Education Inclusion/ Team lead. Martha helped introduce Academic Specialist/ Coaching to the Secondary level with Irving ISD. In this role, Martha served as an instructional coach for both teachers and campus administrators, she wrote secondary curriculum in both ELAR and Math, as well as led professional development initiatives for select campuses and districts. Martha’s most rewarding accomplishment was launching PLCs for Lorenzo de Zavala Middle School which later became a Solution Tree PLC Recognized campus. In 2016, Martha decided to take her coaching skills into the Administrator role when her family moved to Denton, TX. Martha served as Assistant Principal of McNair Elementary in Denton ISD.

    Martha earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin with a focus on Bilingual Education and her graduate degree with Lamar University where she also earned her Principal Certification. When Martha left the educational realm to help her family start a business in 2018, she never left education behind. Martha has sat on both campus and district committees at her children’s schools/ districts and is looking forward to her new role as COPTOP observer for the APL project with the CORE team at SMU in Texas.

  • Annie Wright

    Southern Methodist University

    Dr. Annie Wright is the Executive Director for Southern Methodist University’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE). She is a Clinical Community psychologist and a program evaluator. Her expertise is in the planning, implementation and evaluation of K-12 educational programming. She works with a range of educational settings, including districts, schools, and out of school time non-profits. She has a particular interest in the work of community coalitions focused on educational reform and systems level change. Dr. Wright pays particular attention to both community and implementation science principles in order to inform effective programming. Within educational settings, her content expertise covers social & emotional learning, technology as a pedagogical tool, afterschool and STEM programming, pre-kindergarten programs, and programming within museums and other informal learning settings. Related content areas Dr. Wright has worked on include adolescent pregnancy and underage drinking prevention. Her responsibilities as the Executive Director include ensuring the quality and rigor of all CORE projects and facilitating smooth collaboration with program staff, funders, and other evaluation partners. Dr. Wright is also responsible for developing complex, yet feasible, process and outcome evaluation plans, multiple forms of data collection, management, analysis, report writing and presentations, in addition to coordinating CORE’s evaluation team.

State Partners (VIRGINIA)

  • Margaret (Peg) Burchinal

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Peg Burchinal is a leading researcher and statistician in child care research, and a widely recognized applied statistician. She has authored or co-authored more than 150 papers published in peer-reviewed journals, including Child Development, Developmental Psychology, American Psychologist, and Science. She currently leads one of the IES Early ChildhoodNetwork research studies and co-leads an adult follow-up of the Abecedarian Project and an OPRE study designed to manipulate different dimensions of quality (Variations in Quality Improvement). She has served as a lead statistician for landmark early education studies, including the Abecedarian Project, Cost, Quality and Outcomes Study, NICHD Study of Early Child and Youth Development, National Center for Early Development and Learning Pre-kindergarten Study, and the Educare Learning Network, and evaluations of state pre-kindergarten programs, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, and Head Start Designation Renewal System.

  • Tara Hofkens

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Tara Hofkens is a Research Assistant Professor at the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning Science and Policy and an M.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, and a decade of experience in biobehavioral research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Her research focuses on how the social and affective processes involved in teaching and learning contribute to development and learning in school. Specifically, she applies her expertise in student engagement learning science and background in stress physiology to study the dynamics of engagement and social interactions in school, and how classroom experiences contribute to developmental and educational trajectories from early childhood through adolescence.

  • Karime Cameron

    University of Virginia

    Coordinator of the Active Playful Learning Project at the Virginia site, with an M.Ed. in educational psychology and developmental applied science from the University of Virginia. Karime works at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, where she has gained valuable experience managing large scale research projects on children’s curiosity and creativity, teacher well-being, and its impact on children socio-emotional development. As a site coordinator, she collaborates and supports teachers, coaches, and the research team. When not working, Karime enjoys spending her time with her husband and two young daughters.

  • Jen Rofman

    University of Virginia

    Jen is an Education and Outreach Manager at UVA’s School of Education and Human Development where she is part of the APL team.  As a coach, she is excited to share APL with elementary teachers. Jen has been an educator for over 20 years and has taught elementary students in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and the United Kingdom.  She especially enjoys working with diverse groups of learners and developing classroom strategies to promote student collaboration, individual growth, and a lasting love of learning. Jen earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at Franklin and Marshall College and her master’s degree in elementary education at Temple University.

  • Renée de Kruif

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Renée de Kruif works as a Data Specialist at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. She has advanced degrees in Educational Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Renee has worked in the early education and elementary school field for over 30 years in a variety of positions, ranging from pre-k/kindergarten and first-grade teacher, research program coordinator, independent consultant, and educational researcher. She has extensive experience as a researcher on large-scale multi-site quality improvement, evaluation, and practice-based professional development efforts in child care centers and elementary schools in the Netherlands, Aruba, and the US. In her current role, Renee provides data management support for a team of faculty, students, and staff conducting research on the impacts of implementing the Active Playful Learning (APL) intervention.

  • Sara Arnold

    George Mason University
    Sara Arnold is a current student at George Mason, pursuing a M.S. in Criminal Justice. She holds a B.S. from Virginia Tech in Sociology and Criminology. Prior to this, she spent time working as a teacher at a Head Start daycare program. With a diverse background in research, from the study of social patterns to program implementation, Sara looks forward to bringing a unique perspective to the Active Playful Learning Team.
  • Mia Griffin

    Amherst College

    Mia Griffin joins the APL team as a Data Collector and Research Assistant. Mia recently graduated from Amherst College with a degree in Economics, where she worked analyzing the impact of contraceptive policy on labor migrants and investigating disproportionate trends of toxin exposure from beauty products among women of color. Education has been a keen interest for Mia, which she had explored through classroom teaching and as an analyst working with educational technologies. Mia is enthusiastic about bringing her passion for learning and research to the APL team.

  • Emily Herbut

    Eckerd College

    Emily Herbut joins the APL team as part of the Research Assistant and Data Collectors team. Emily graduated in 2022 from Eckerd College with two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Environmental Studies and Anthropology. She has prior experience conducting anthropological research in the form of interviews, oral histories, and surveys. Currently, Emily is interested in pursuing a career in environmental education and attending graduate school in Europe within the next few years. Emily is thrilled to be a part of the APL team!

  • Kimberly Wong

    University of Virginia

    Kimberly Wong is a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, majoring in Youth and Social Innovation. With years of experience working with youth and a background in health and education. As a previous math instructor at Mathnasium and a current medical assistant at UVA Pediatrics, Kimberly brings a wealth of diverse experiences to her research endeavors. As a research assistant at APL, she infuses her work with a fresh perspective driven by her passion for innovation and research. Kimberly’s commitment to creating meaningful impact for low-income communities fuels her aspirations to extend her research beyond her post-graduate studies.

  • Robert Pianta

    University of Virginia

    Dr. Robert Pianta is the Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education, Professor ofPsychology, and founding director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. Dr. Pianta‘s research and policy interests focus on the intersection of education and human development. In particular his work has advanced conceptualization and measurement of teacher-student relationships and documented their contributions to students’ learning anddevelopment. Dr. Pianta has led research and development on measurement tool and interventions that help teachers interact with students more effectively and that are used widely in the United States and around the world. He is past Editor of the Journal of School Psychology and associate editor for AERA Open. An internationally recognized expert in both early childhood education and K-12 teaching and learning, Dr. Pianta regularly consults with federal agencies, foundations, universities, and governments. He was named a Fellow of the American Education Research Association and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota in 2016. Dr. Pianta served as Dean of the UVA School of Education of Human Development from 2007-2022 and remains a member of the faculty.

The Executive Coaches

  • Ruth Aichenbaum

    William Penn Charter’s Teaching & Learning Center

    Ruth Aichenbaum is the founder and Director of William Penn Charter’s Teaching & Learning Center, an innovative model replicated in more than 25 Teaching & Learning Centers across the country. The award winning, veteran, educator of 26 years, has led the Center for over a decade. The Teaching & Learning Center is an on-site model of professional developmentthat allows teachers to access the professional development they want and need when they want it, making use of the expertise of on-campus peer faculty, as well as connecting virtuallywith experts in the field of education around the world. The Teaching and Learning Center facilitates faculty learning with and from one another, and share successes and challenges in a safe, supportive environment. Additionally, Ruth was one of the founders of VITAL, a summer grant program that allows faculty to create innovative curriculum, have time to collaborate, make global connections, do interdisciplinary work, and strengthen collegial relationships.

  • Elias Blinkoff

    Temple University

    Elias Blinkoff, Ph.D. is a developmental psychology postdoctoral fellow at Temple University. His research explores the intersection between the science of learning and educational practice and policy. Elias’ current projects focus on the implementation of playful learning principles to promote 21st century skills in the classroom. Through this work, he is eager to understand how multi-directional collaborations between researchers, educators, students, and families can foster more meaningful learning for students. Before arriving at Temple, Elias mentored middle school students in Philadelphia with City Year. He holds a B.A. in Psychology and Educational Studies from Swarthmore College and a Ph.D from Temple University.

  • Sophia Espinoza

    Educator and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Expert

    Sophia Espinoza is a career educator with a unique background in product development, curriculum design, and school leadership. Her areas of expertise include creating project-based learning curriculum that teaches 21st century skills, designing learning experiences for Multilingual Learners and students with neurodiverse needs, providing mentorship and professional development to school staff, and using technology to foster innovation in classrooms. Before joining the APL team Sophia was the Director of Learning Design and Efficacy at Encantos, where she oversaw the development of children’s books, media and technology. Under her leadership, Encantos was named one of the 10 most innovative education companies in the world by Fast Company in 2021. Sophia holds a B.A. in Psychology from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Education from Dominican University.

  • Carol Lautenbach

    Assistant Superintendent, K-5 Principal, and Educator

    Dr. Carol Lautenbach served Godfrey-Lee Public Schools (Wyoming, MI) for 29 years in many roles before retiring in 2021 as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Design. In spring 2021 she served on Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Student Recovery Advisory Council’s Innovation and Redesign Subcommittee. That same year, she was selected to be a fellow in the Steelcase Social Innovation Lab and also in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Community Diversity and Inclusion fellowship. Along with four other researchers and practitioners, she co-authored Making Schools Work: Bringing the science of learning to joyful classroom practice (2022), a book to help educators, students, and communities build joyful, equitable schools together.