Prof. wins award for work in child psychiatry

Yale professor James Comer’s innovative ideas in child psychiatry and his effective implementation of a groundbreaking education program earned him the 2007 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Education, the University announced Thursday.

Comer, a child psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine, was selected from among 32 nominations for the 17th Grawemeyer Education Prize, one of five $200,000 annual prizes recognizing great ideas in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The award recognizes Comer’s efforts in promoting child development as a method of improving education through his School Development Program, launched when he joined the Yale faculty in 1968. Over 600 schools nationwide have reported that the program, which emphasizes collaboration between parents and school teachers and administrators, is improving the educational experience for their students.

“He has developed an innovative model of integrating concepts from child development and mental health,” said Joseph Woolston, a professor of child psychiatry and pediatrics at the Yale Child Study Center. “He has transformed the school environment — the social ecology of the school — and it has been quite revolutionary.”

In his 2004 book, “Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World,” Comer argued that by merely requiring mandatory instructional standards for youth, federal law overlooks the ways schools can help children become successful adults.

“We worked out a way, a framework, for bringing parents, teachers and administrators together to create a comprehensive school plan that was both academic and social,” Comer said in a 2004 National Public Radio interview. “To make it in the world, it takes more than academic achievement and high test scores. You have to have social development so you can interact with people everywhere, anyplace, whatever situation you’re in.”

Steven Marans, professor of child psychiatry at Yale and the director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, explained that Comer’s educational model creates the best climate for child development in order for students to become productive members of society.

“Dr. Comer’s ideas capitalize on what it really means to develop a community that supports development and learning in our children,” he said. “He’s a giant in our field and has blazed a path for ways of applying what we learn in research to the broader needs of our community.”

Comer is a member of the National Commission on Teaching and has worked with such groups as the Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy and the Public Committee on Mental Health. Comer holds a doctorate in medicine from Howard University, a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University. He has written over 450 articles on child health and development and race relations.

Woolston said the department is proud of Comer’s achievements and this public recognition of his work.

“It’s a great honor for one of our faculty to get this extremely prestigious award,” Woolston said.

David Musto, a Yale professor of child psychiatry and the history of medicine and longtime friend of Comer’s, said the award proves the strength of Comer’s approach to education, as his program is still going strong after almost 40 years.

Comer has received 42 honorary degrees over his career and a long list of awards including the John P. McGovern Behavioral Science Award from the Smithsonian, the Heinz Award in the Human Condition, the Healthtrac Foundation Prize and the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in education.

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