Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Reflections on a Research Career: Perspective on 35 Years of Research at the Juniper Gardens Children's Project

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Reflections on a Research Career: Perspective on 35 Years of Research at the Juniper Gardens Children's Project

Article excerpt

By conventional wisdom, the Juniper Gardens Children's Project is an oddity--for all practical purposes, it shouldn't exist--let alone be successful. Before Juniper Gardens, who would have thought that meaningful programs of research could be conducted in the homes, schools, and neighborhoods of an economically distressed community like northeast Kansas City, Kansas, a place where every conceivable risk to children and to personal success exists in abundance; who would have thought that moms, dads, and teachers here could learn and apply new strategies and practices that showed measurable improvements in their children's performance; who would have thought that families in this community would participate in longitudinal studies, sometimes lasting 10 years or more; who would have thought that some university faculty would eagerly undertake research programs spending their careers in the "neighborhood"; who would have thought that new designs, assessments, and intervention practices needed for research validation would be created while continuing to maintain the interest and respect of the community?

The Juniper Gardens Children's Project has existed because the leadership in the northeast community sought a better future for its children. It exists because of the vision of the University of Kansas faculty, who demonstrated that meaningful research could be organized around the very reality of children in their homes, schools, and playgrounds. It flourished because the families and teachers participated.

It continues now in its 4th decade because its current leaders, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and alumni sought to use and extend what has been learned, and as a result, have been challenged to do better. It continues because agencies, organizations, and individuals have found the work important enough to fund it; and it continues because it has made a difference in the lives of countless numbers of children and families.

WHAT CONDITIONS PROMPTED THIS LINE OF RESEARCH?

The Juniper Gardens Children's Project (JGCP) was established in 1964 as part of the "War on Poverty" declared by President Johnson during the 1960s. The JGCP was one of the visionary efforts of Richard L. Schiefelbusch and his colleagues (R. Vance Hall, Fred Girardeau) at the Bureau of Child Research, University of Kansas. The JGCP became a collaborative partnership between University of Kansas researchers in the disciplines of Human Development, Special Education, and Health; community activists (The Northeast Action Group, [NAG]) headed by Uriel Owens; and residents of the northeast neighborhoods of Kansas City, Kansas. During this time, two generations of KU faculty and community residents have worked at the JGCP.

The 10-square-mile urban area that is the northeast section, then and now, experiences a large number of environmental and social conditions associated with poverty rates as high as 65% and urban blight typical of many urban areas nationally that are hazards and risks to children's health, development, and safety. The area today lies within the Missouri/Kansas Bi-State Economic Enterprise Zone, President Clinton's Title XX initiative to energize blighted urban areas.

WHAT CONDITIONS WERE WE TRYING TO CHANGE?

All concerned were motivated to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty by promoting the academic and social achievements of the children living in the area by improving developmental and educational experiences within the community.

   Families living in deprived urban areas perpetuate a vicious cycle of poor
   child rearing practices and inadequate school adjustment usually expressed
   in the form of academic failures and behavior problems that lead to early
   dropouts, delinquent behavior, early pregnancies, and/or unstable
   marriages. These new families are very soon added to the already staggering
   number of individuals supported by welfare programs, resulting in further
   drain on the community and involving poor prognosis for self-improvement. … 
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