The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention was designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Xigrid Soto-Boykin recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor and senior scientist at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on early childhood education for bilingual learners, including those with communication impairments. We recently caught up with Dr. Soto-Boykin to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.
As a Puerto Rican who learned English at age 11 and who was the first person in my family to attend college, my passion for conducting research focused on high-quality early childhood education for Latinx preschoolers stems from my personal experiences.
During my postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas under Dr. Judith Carta, I had the opportunity to conduct community-based research in a local bilingual early childhood center in Kansas City. Initially, my goal was to expand my dissertation work, which focused on evaluating the effects of bilingual emergent literacy instruction for Latinx preschoolers. However, like all great stories go, my research agenda took some unexpected twists and turns. On the day my initial research study was approved, we were informed we needed to work remotely and that we could not go on-site to conduct our research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What initially felt like a major setback became an opportunity to expand my research. While working remotely, I continued to collaborate with the administrators and teachers to determine their most pressing needs. We co-constructed a strategic plan for identifying the center’s strengths and areas for improvement. To address areas identified as major needs, we began initiatives to provide educators with ongoing professional development and families with engagement opportunities. Through this research-community partnership, we were awarded a Kauffman Quality Improvement Grant. This grant is funding our creation of the infrastructure necessary to apply data-based decision making to guide teacher professional development and monitor children’s school readiness and bilingual development.
In 2020, as the nation was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and a reckoning of the structural racism impacting the lives of Black and Brown individuals, the work I was doing at the bilingual early childhood center became contextualized. I saw how teachers who earn minimal wages risked their lives to provide essential care for children and families. I saw how families struggled to make ends meet after losing their jobs. I began understanding how linguistic discrimination impacts the way researchers, educators, and policymakers address bilingualism. As I read outside my typical fields of speech-language therapy, bilingualism, and early childhood special education, I began to see how the interconnected systems in our society impact the lives of Latinx bilingual children.
This renewed understanding led me to where I am today. In 2020, I launched a website, habladll.org, containing free resources for parents, teachers, and therapists working with bilingual children. I am presently an assistant research professor and senior scientist of bilingual learning at The Children’s Equity Project (CEP) at Arizona State University. The CEP is a non-partisan center that seeks to inform research, policy, and practice to promote equitable access to early childhood education. In this role, I am applying what I learned during my postdoctoral fellowship to ensure young dual language learners with and without disabilities and their families receive the bilingual support they deserve.
My research and personal experiences are one and the same. I see myself as a scholar-activist with the goal of creating just educational experiences for Latinx children and their families. I am grateful for my training, mentors, colleagues, and community partners who continue to equip me with the tools to co-create a world where Latinx children receive high quality early childhood instruction centered on their unique linguistic and cultural assets.
This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, here, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.
This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.