Beyond the Center: Championing Outcomes for Lifelong Success

With a robust background rooted in psychology, Joy Polignano joined the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies eager to put her passion into action and conduct research aimed to transform the lives of young children.

Holding a bachelor’s in Psychology from Fairfield University, a master’s in Human Development from Lehigh University and a doctorate in School Psychology also from Lehigh University, Joy specialized her studies so she was prepared to promote the growth and development of young children, with a particular interest in children with or at risk for disabilities.

“I have always enjoyed working with young children,” Joy said. “I love eliciting joy and curiosity in our youngest learners, observing their progress over time and sharing this with families.”

She centered her graduate experiences around school-based prevention and early intervention, particularly early childhood assessment and service delivery, and in 2014, she gained her national school psychology certification.

“The first five years of a child’s life are critical,” Joy said. “The social interactions and learning opportunities children experience during these formative years set the stage for their future outcomes across health, educational and social domains.”  

Joy Polignano

Joy Polignano
Institute of Education Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow, 2014-2015
Postdoctoral Associate, 2015-2017

In 2014, Joy joined the Anita Zucker Center as a postdoctoral fellow as part of an Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funded interdisciplinary research training program designed to prepare individuals to conduct meaningful, effective research that advances the field of early childhood studies and its knowledge, policies, and practices. Following the completion of her fellowship in 2015, she continued with the Center as a postdoctoral associate until 2017.

“During my time with AZCEECS, I was always impressed by the dedication and passion of my colleagues, as well as the students associated with the Center, to improve the lives of children at risk for or impacted by disabilities,” she said.

We reached out to Joy to learn more about her experiences at the Center and explore her professional journey since departing the Center. Today, she serves as an early intervention school psychologist in Pennsylvania.  

As an IES postdoctoral fellow, specializing in early intervention and early learning in special education, Joy was involved with two IES-funded efficacy trials evaluating methods used to improve the social and emotional outcomes of preschool children. She supported data collection for BEST in CLASS, an intervention program that helps teachers gain the knowledge and tools needed to build positive learning experiences for young children, and the Pyramid Model, a multi-tiered system of positive behavioral support practices to promote young children’s social and emotional development and prevent or address their challenging behavior. Additionally, as a postdoctoral associate, Joy aided Patricia Snyder, David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies and Director of the Anita Zucker Center, by serving as cross-site data coordinator for an efficacy trial of Embedded Instruction for Early Learning, an approach that promotes engagement and learning in everyday activities, routines and transitions for young children with or at risk for delays or disabilities.

Joy Polignano AZCEECS

“All of these projects helped me hone my skills related to bridging the gap between research and practice,” Joy said.

Joy shared it was powerful to see how the Center’s research efforts create real, lasting change for young children.

“Although we faced occasional challenges and setbacks, it was always exciting and rewarding to see these projects move from initial planning stages to subsequent evaluation stages in which we could see positive and measurable changes in teacher and child outcomes,” she said.

Today, Joy serves as an early intervention school psychologist with the Berks County Intermediate Unit (BCIU), an educational service agency that provides programs and services to Berks County public school districts, nonpublic schools and various human services organizations in the area. By providing specialized early intervention services, child care opportunities and state- and federally-funded preschool programs, the BCIU impacts the lives of more than 20,000 young children within their early childhood programs.

Through her role, Joy’s passions are put into action every day. Joy supports children with delays and disabilities by identifying their strengths and needs and collaboratively developing individual education programs that best foster their growth and development. She consults with families and educators to support their use of positive behavior support practices across settings and has also provided professional development opportunities to early intervention staff.

“Working in early childhood education is such a rewarding and meaningful profession given one can play an integral role in helping to improve a child’s development,” she said. “Very young children are capable of making tremendous gains during these early years, and this observable progress also reinforces the work we do.”

Joy credits the Anita Zucker Center with not only enhancing her expertise in early education and development, but also providing her with a wide range of experiences to draw on when providing young children of differing levels of needs and abilities the services they need to succeed.

“Each time I serve a student in my current role, I draw from this knowledge base and my experiences,” she said.

Looking forward, Joy plans to continue to engage in collaborative research projects, some with members of the Anita Zucker Center. She hopes to continue playing a leadership role in promoting systemic change in early education programming and in improving classroom quality and child outcomes.

When asked what advice she would give to those interested in serving in the field of early childhood education, Joy encouraged spending time in various early childhood settings, reaching out to former and current students and faculty and visiting the Anita Zucker Center website to learn about ongoing projects and cutting-edge research.

Joy Polignano Presentation

“There are many career paths one can pursue if interested in working with young children such as early childhood education, early childhood special education, school psychology, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy or public health,” she said. “Explore your options to see what’s right for you.”

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