Albano, Tony by wfq74180

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									                                   Albano, Tony
                    Peer Relationships in Italian Preschools
       Faculty Mentor: Clyde Robinson, Ph.D., Marriage Family and Human Development

The purpose of this project was to add significantly to the peer relationship literature, specifically
as it applies to social status and aggression in preschoolers. A large number of studies have
addressed the connection between physical aggression and children‟s social status. Relational
aggression (aggression through the manipulation of relationships, such as by ignoring or
spreading rumors about someone) has also recently been linked to social status; however, only
one study has focused on the relationship between these two variables, revealing that popular and
controversial preschool children in the US tend to use relationally aggressive tactics more than
other groups (Nelson, Robinson, & Hart, 2005).1 This study, conducted in Southern Italy, sought
to confirm the findings of Nelson, Robinson, and Hart (2005) and those of previous studies
conducted in the US, Russia, and China, by examining how measures of children‟s social status
correlate with physically and relationally aggressive behaviors.

Preparations for this project began in August, 2005 and were consistently challenging. Under the
direction of Dr. Clyde Robinson, I was responsible for obtaining funding and IRB approval,
creating behavior and social status measures based on those used in previous studies, directing
the translation of all materials into French, and establishing a relationship on behalf of BYU with
the University of Toulouse, located in Southern France. France was initially chosen as the study
location because of complementary housing and transportation arrangements which had
previously been procured for summer 2006, and because of its renowned public preschool
system. To our dismay, eight weeks before departure the University of Toulouse informed us that
they would not be able to collaborate. Having already taken a French class, obtained funding,
booked flights, and confirmed with my uncle that my wife and I would be able to housesit for
him, I was now forced to create a plan B and quickly resort to it. I contacted a close friend in
Southern Italy, Sergio Catalano, whom I had met while serving a mission for the LDS church,
and pleaded for his help. One week later he responded with the news that he and his sister Maria
Giovanna would be available. With the connections of his mother, a school teacher, he had
already contacted four preschools and requested their participation. In August 2006 we returned
from Italy with data on 266 Italian children from 13 preschools.

Data collection was both daunting and exciting. My wife and I took a three-leg 36 hour train trip
from Southeastern France, where we were house-sitting, to the coastal town of Bari, located in
Southern Italy. For two weeks I trained Sergio and Maria Giovanna, collected data, and ate
pizza, pasta and gelato. Then for the next four weeks my gracious research assistants continued
data collection on their own. The most intimidating aspect of data collection was the goal
number of participants: 250-300 children. When I arrived we had a commitment from about 190
children, which we then boosted to nearly 300, but which later fell to the 260s when an entire
class dropped out upon hearing that BYU may brainwash their children.

Aggressive behavior and social status were measured in three ways. First, children were
individually asked questions such as “who takes turns and shares?”, “who says „I am not going to
be your friend anymore‟ when they are mad?”, “who starts fights with other children?” Children
responded to these questions by pointing to photographs of their peers which were displayed on a
poster board (Fig.1). Second, children were asked to sort the photos of their classmates into three
groups based on whether they liked, disliked or didn‟t care to play with them. Finally, teachers
filled out a Social Skills Questionnaire including questions very similar to those presented to the
children, which allowed us to compare and establish the validity of the children‟s ratings.

As with most studies of this kind, a few years can pass before data is analyzed and findings are
published. We are currently in the beginning stages of manuscript preparation and hope to see
our findings in a professional journal later this year. We can confidently say that Italian
preschoolers are at least as aggressive as their foreign age-mates, and that they are similarly
aware of both physically and relationally aggressive behavior in the classroom. Thus findings
from previous studies have been confirmed.

This ORCA funded project was a priceless experience, one which introduced me to professional
research in the social sciences, and one without which I never would have been accepted to
doctoral programs at the University of Minnesota and Columbia University Teachers College.2
______________________________________________________________________________
1
    Nelson, D. A., Robinson, C. C., & Hart, C. H. (2005). Relational and physical aggression of preschool-
      age children: Peer status linkages across informants. Early Education and Development, 16, 115 -
      139.
2
  I am especially grateful to a handful of people who made this project possible: my wife Jill, who
consented to spend with me and our 4-month-old son Anthony, a blazing hot summer in a 500-year-old
shepherd‟s cottage in the Pyrenees Mountains of Southern France; my mentor Dr. Clyde Robinson, who
trusted me with a pocketful of cash and a boxful of confidential data; ORCA, who funded much of my
travel expenses; and finally Sergio, Maria Giovanna, Luigi, Paulo, and Tina Catalano, who hosted us and
did at least half of the work. Separate and special thanks go to the wonderful children and teachers of the
participating Bari preschools.




         Figure 1 - Maria Giovanna and Sergio Catalano, and Tony Albano with sorting boxes and photo board

								
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