SANTA BARBARA — Studies show that many low-income Latino children begin kindergarten at a significant educational disadvantage as compared to their mainstream American classmates. With a $1.2 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at UC Santa Barbara may help level the playing field, and give those preschoolers important lessons in health and biology, the university reported Tuesday in a media release.
The grant has been awarded to principal investigator Laura Romo, an associate professor in the department of education at UCSB and director of the campus’s Chicano Studies Institute. Co-principal investigators on the project include Professor Yukari Okamoto, and Associate Professors Julia Bianchini and Jin Sook Lee. All three are faculty members in UCSB’s Department of Education. The grant will support the design and implementation of a preschool biology curriculum for low-income Latino children to foster conceptual understanding of cold and flu prevention, as well as food and nutrition.
“When young children are told to wash their hands, adults tend to leave out the how and why,” Romo said. “Our curriculum will provide children with a rudimentary conceptual understanding of germ biology as a rationale. This type of information can help children remember what they should do to prevent illness and promote better hygiene. Similarly, a biological reason related to how food helps people grow or stay healthy may foster compliance with eating healthy things, such as vegetables.”
In addition, the curriculum presents information in the context of scientific inquiry, which enriches the preschoolers’ learning experiences by teaching them how to ask questions, generate explanations and make predictions, the university reported.
“With the project, we’re also trying to develop information-seeking and explanatory discourse skills so when the preschool children get to kindergarten, they’re comparable to their peers,” Romo said.
The project, which will continue over five years, is focused on English learners –– 4- and 5-year-old Latino children whose first language is Spanish. Romo and her team are working in collaboration with the Head Start program in Santa Barbara, as well as the Franklin Children’s Center. Experienced preschool teachers at these sites will participate in developing and refining materials.
A secondary aim of the study is…