Advancing Health & STEM Learning

Advancing health and STEM learning through a partnership with Children’s National Research Institute.

by Knology
Mar 31, 2023

Building a healthier world means designing systems, programs, and interventions that allow people to take control of their health. It means ensuring that people have the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to navigate the personal health challenges they’ll face over the course of their lives, and providing access to the resources that can help them successfully meet these. And it means helping those with interests in science and medicine become leaders in these fields, so they can contribute to making their communities healthier.

Unfortunately, in many parts of the world today, children and young people lack access to the kinds of learning opportunities that would enable them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing and that would help them pursue careers in health and STEM. This is especially true for members of historically and persistently excluded groups.

To address this pressing concern, we actively seek partnerships with organizations and institutions dedicated to building cultures of health learning among children, teenagers, and young adults. Through these partnerships, we seek to advance young people’s health literacy, self-efficacy, and self-advocacy, supporting interventions that help youth become agents of health and acquire the skills needed to succeed in the STEM and health professions.

Children’s National Research Institute

One of our key partners in this venture has been the Children’s National Research Institute (CNRI) at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Since Knology’s founding in 2011, we have worked with our colleagues at CNRI on four separate projects—all of which have been dedicated to equipping young people with the knowledge and skills needed to take charge of their health and gain access to STEM and health-related careers. Led by PI Dr. Naomi Luban, CNRI’s educational interventions build health literacy through innovative, hands-on, inquiry-based STEM and health curricula that have been deployed in a variety of formal and informal learning environments—including classrooms, libraries, afterschool programs, and hospitals. While some of these projects target children in grades K-5, others are designed to help older learners (including high school students) acquire the skills and competencies required for success in the health and STEM professions.

A particular aim of CNRI has been to provide high-quality STEM and health learning opportunities for members of historically and persistently excluded groups. First developed for use in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, their interventions speak directly to the needs and concerns of minority populations, including African-American, African, and Hispanic youth. By empowering children and families in under-resourced, under-represented communities, CNRI’s work contributes to two larger aims: (1) reducing the opportunity gap among low-income youth; (2) reducing those health disparities borne of systemic racism and socioeconomic disadvantage.

As a thought partner, we have worked closely with CNRI for more than ten years. To learn more about our work with them, along with links to pertinent reports and publications that have resulted from our partnership with CNRI, see below!

“Being Me” (2009-2014)

“Being Me” was a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded project that broadened opportunities for STEM and health learning within the Washington, DC & Prince George’s County (MD) public school system. Over the course of its five-year history, it engaged over 2,500 students, teachers, school administrators, parents and family members through 21 school-based events and 13 in-person teacher trainings and workshops. Along with this, “Being Me” materials were used by the National Children’s Museum at its Museum Without Walls and Launch Zone sessions, with over 10,000 visitors. To read more about this project, see our official evaluative report.

“Discover SCIENCE with Dr. Bear” (2017-2022)

Discover SCIENCE was an NIH-funded project designed to establish a culture of STEM/health learning in out-of-school time settings, such as libraries. An adaptation of “Being Me,” its curriculum engaged children in a series of art-focused STEM/health lessons aimed at increasing their knowledge of key bodily systems and practices for achieving physical and emotional wellbeing. Beyond this, it sought to strengthen scientific thinking skills and generate interest in STEM and health-related careers. Modified for use in both virtual and in-person settings, during its five-year history, the program reached hundreds of young learners in numerous informal learning environments—including libraries, summer camps, family residences, afterschool programs, and the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. Click here for our official evaluation of the project. For more on how library workers and Girl Scout troop leaders implemented the Discover SCIENCE curriculum, click here. And to read about how the project helped break down racial barriers to STEM and health learning, click here.

METEOR (2017-2022)

Formally known as “Mentored Experience to Expand Opportunities in Research version High School” METEOR was launched in 2017 with funding from the NIH. Based on partnerships with George Washington University’s Schools of Education and Medicine and Health Sciences and the DC Public and Public Charter High School system, one of METEOR’s key goals was to support diverse students on their pathways to college and careers in biomedical sciences. Toward that end, during its six-year history, METEOR embedded 47 high school students (85% of whom identified as a person of color, and 75% of whom identified as female) into translational science laboratories and clinical and behavioral research programs at Children’s National Hospital. A mentorship-based research experience, METEOR was augmented by an inquiry-based curriculum, career and peer mentoring, college preparation and other health learning opportunities. Click here for our official evaluation of the project, and here for a summary of our primary findings.

“Science Journeys” (2022–2023)

“Science Journeys” is designed to provide children and families in hospitalized settings with high-quality STEM educational opportunities. Working in collaboration with Child Life Specialists and Parent Advocates, project leaders will develop and assess a curriculum for children in grades K-8 who are receiving inpatient and outpatient care. An adaptation of the Discover SCIENCE curriculum, the goal of Science Journeys is to increase STEM literacy among hospitalized children, and to improve their physical and mental health by equipping them with the skills and tools needed to achieve agency in their individual health journeys. Experiential and personalized, the program helps children critically explore their own health data, and uses this to help them understand their bodies, the different diseases that affect children, and how diagnostic methods, treatments, and healthcare teams promote recovery and wellbeing. Through all of this, the program will ensure continuity of education and counteract the stress that often accompanies hospitalization.

Cover photo courtesy of Julia Beth Miller, CNRI Program Staff

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