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Professor retires after 32 years with Warner

Professor Retires After 32 Years with Warner
Lucia French achieves emeritus status

Lucia French, Earl B. Taylor Professor, has retired after 32 years as a faculty member at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and Human Development. The Board of Trustees has named her the Earl B. Taylor Professor Emeritus of Education.
French received her BA, MA, and PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. At the University of Rochester, French taught in the human development and the teaching and curriculum programs and served as an advisor to dozens of master’s and doctoral students. Many of her doctoral students have gone on to establish distinguished careers in academia.
A leader in the fields of developmental psychology and early childhood education, French was elected a Spencer Fellow of the National Academy of Education and awarded a Fulbright-Hayes Research Scholarship. She has focused both her theoretical and her applied research on the interrelations between language development and cognitive development. Her research on children’s acquisition of vocabulary to express logical and temporal relations (e.g., before, after, because, so) developed a theoretical framework that resolved a longstanding dispute in psycholinguistics (e.g., Young Children’s Understanding of Relational Terms: Some Ifs, Ors, and Buts, Springer-Vertag, 1985). Later research funded by the Spencer Foundation investigated how three-year-olds learn to talk with their peers, who are equally inept as conversational partners. 
In the early 1990s, two opportunities determined the lines of basic and applied research that French would continue for the remainder of her career at the University of Rochester. A multi-year Fulbright award allowed her to observe Korean preschool programs, seeking to gain a different perspective on why American children living in poverty often had difficulty learning to read. At the same time, Kodak was working to improve education in the Rochester community and asked French to design a state-of-the-art preschool program in collaboration with the local school district and Head Start programs. 
Several months of observations in Korean preschools revealed that while students were rarely encouraged to talk, they were always encouraged to listen carefully. French concluded that the reason almost all Korean children learn to read was because they had already developed good comprehension skills before being exposed to written text.
In collaboration with students and other colleagues, French established a demonstration Head Start Center and began developing a curriculum that incorporated what she had learned in Korea. All experiences in the classroom were built around investigations of the everyday world, using a framework based on the science cycle. The demonstration center was in place for seven years, during which time several hundred children attended, and research showed that all of the children—including English Language Learners—developed new vocabulary at a much higher rate than expected.
The ScienceStart! Early Childhood Curriculum (, one of French’s greatest contributions, was originally developed for 36 to 50 Head Start students and later received funding, totaling approximately $4.5 million, from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. This funding led to the development of a detailed curriculum to support the basic skills needed for learning to read and write. Research with more than 200 teachers and thousands of students showed that teachers found the curriculum both beneficial to students and easy to use. Research also showed that participating in the curriculum improved the vocabulary, knowledge base, and problem-solving skills of preschoolers from many different backgrounds. 
French’s work with ScienceStart! has garnered national and international attention, resulting in numerous prominent organizations approaching French for consulting work. These include Sesame Street, the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Academy, and the Korean Education Development Institute (KEDI).
“Lucia’s academic knowledge, coupled with her training and instincts about research in general, have yielded a prominent profile that has given Lucia the national visibility that she deserves,” said Kathryn Douthit, chair of counseling and human development.
French has published more than 50 scholarly publications, including book chapters and articles in research journals and other publications for early childhood educators, as well as the book Young Children’s Understanding of Relational Terms: Some Ifs, Ors, and Buts (Springer-Vertag, 1985).
Douthit describes French as someone who has always cared deeply about the welfare of students and colleagues and as someone whom people would always go to for wisdom.
“Lucia is an individual who has an incredible intellectual capability that has allowed her to make great contributions to the direction of the human development program,” added Douthit. “She was very invested in the quality of the program’s curriculum and was steadfast in maintaining that excellence. With an in-depth understanding of the broader academic world outside of Warner, Lucia has also brought a lot of experience and wisdom to Warner students, giving them a sense of the world and where they fit into it.

French plans to continue to write for early childhood educators and to promote the wider distribution of the ScienceStart! Early Childhood Curriculum, which is timely given the federal and state interest in higher quality early childhood programs, particularly those that have a STEM focus. As she transitions into retirement, she also plans to spend more time traveling and engaging in artwork, especially print-making.