July 26, 2017

Deans of three Penn schools commit to continuing collaborations to improve the lives of Philadelphia children and families

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The Penn Futures Project (PFP) kicked off its second year by bringing together academic researchers, officials from Philadelphia and the city school district, and civic leaders for a roundtable on ways to support area children and families. PFP was established in 2016 by the deans of the Graduate School of Education, the School of Nursing, and School of Social Policy & Practice to forge evidence-based, cross-disciplinary collaborations to support children and families in Philadelphia.

At the June 28 roundtable, researchers and practitioners heard ideas for new ways they could collaborate around challenges facing many of the city’s families.

“We need to look beyond education, and beyond school halls, to think about how we can support families and children, and to knit together the services that help children thrive in these conditions,” said Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman. “It’s going to take all of us working together, teachers and counselors, social workers and nurses, health professionals and city officials.”

The catalyst for the roundtable discussion was Parenting Matters, a report issued by the National Academies of Sciences. Penn GSE’s Vivian Gadsden, who chaired the writing committee, along with several of the report’s authors, walked attendees through some of the recommendations in the report. They discussed how parents of young children are regularly overlooked when education policies are created, and how strategic interventions can pay huge dividends.

Researchers also discussed the impact of their experiences. Katherine Gold, a report co-author and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, spoke about leading a mobile clinic for impoverished mothers and children in Detroit.

“You need to meet parents where they are at and do what needs to be done, whether that is your field or not,” Gold said.  She told the group that she relied as much on her MSW as her MD in supporting her patients and their young children. 

Last year PFP funded a range of cross-school collaborations, with further financial assistance from the Provost. Researchers offered updates on these projects at the roundtable.

One Penn Futures project has been aimed at better using data collected by the city to identify neighborhoods where children are exposed to the most risks and bolster efforts to build resiliency – and has already had an impact. This project, led by Penn GSE’s John Fantuzzo, Vivian Gadsden, and Katherine Barghaus, and SP2’s Dennis Culhane, along with Nursing Professors Janet Deatrick and Terri Lipman, worked with the city of Philadelphia to identify neighborhoods where children faced the greatest risk from factors like lead poisoning or homelessness. Using this data, the city targeted funding from a new soda tax to expand high-quality pre-K seats for areas with the greatest needs.

Nursing’s Janet Deatrick gave an overview of the Community/Academic Partnerships to Increase Activity, which is designed to both fight obesity in West Philadelphia and encourage families to spend more time together.

Projects like these serve an immediate need in Philadelphia, said SP2 Dean John L. Jackson. But, by bringing students in different disciplines together, they are also changing how educators, social workers, and nurses will interact in the field throughout their careers. 

“We want to imagine a university where we have students from all three schools in a concerted, explicit, and mandated way learning together in the world experientially, so they are prepared to partner together,” Jackson said.

Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel said the PFP is only starting to look for ways it can connect the academy and the city.

“I want to assure the community this is not a pet project,” Villarruel said. “We are absolutely in here for the long haul.”

Photo: Ginger Fox Photography