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Summer 2017

The Doctor Is In

How teaming up with pediatricians is helping one professor with her research.

Illustration by Melinda BeckIt’s an interesting dilemma for Associate Professor Meredith Rowe, Ed.M.’99, Ed.D.’03. In order to do some of her research, which looks at literacy and vocabulary development from birth until age 3, she needs to study little kids. But as she has found over the years, recruiting families, at least on a large scale, isn’t always easy. She would send out mailings or email parent groups. They would even post signs around town. Eventually, they’d find families, maybe 40 or 50 kids, but getting hundreds was always harder.

That’s why, when pediatrician Barry Zuckerman from Boston Medical Center reached out to her, she jumped at the chance to collaborate on a new project: providing information to new low-income parents about how they can help their babies develop vocabulary, in a place all parents visit — the doctor’s office.

“Barry came to me, and within seconds we both realized there were benefits to this partnership,” Rowe says, noting Zuckerman had similar experience reaching parents through Reach Out and Read, his nonprofit that provides books to children at pediatric visits. “The thought was if we could go through pediatricians who have access to these families anyways and are seen as trustworthy, it would be a more effective way to reach families. Pediatricians are a trusted source of information for parents.”

The plan is to recruit parents at Boston Medical when they bring their babies in for their four-month checkup. Families would be given an app that would deliver messages during the first two years of life, including short videos on everything from the importance of pointing to being responsive to baby babble to managing parent stress.

“We think it’s essential to help parents understand how much of a difference they can make in their child’s development,” Rowe says. Parents will answer questions after watching the videos, which will be produced with WGBH once funding comes through.

Assistant Professor Dana McCoy is also part of the team. “The goal is, through this team, for Dana and me to provide context, Barry to be the connection to pediatricians, and Jillian Orr at WGBH to produce the videos,” she says, adding that although it’s a lot of work building relationships, “it’s a great example of capitalizing on people’s strengths and using community experts to make things happen.”

Illustration by Melinda Beck