RIPPLE Lab Logo

The Research and Interventions Promoting Positive Learning Environments (RIPPLE) Lab group conducts research on how children’s early education experiences shape their development and learning, and how policies and programs can improve these experiences.

Led by Dr. Sharon Wolf, we conduct both descriptive and evaluation research, including large-scale field randomized trials. Our work aims to inform interventions and test the effectiveness of theoretically informed policy solutions to promote child development.

 

World map showcasing where the RIPPLE lab conducts research

Our work spans several countries including the United States, India, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda, and elsewhere.

At the RIPPLE lab, we are a group of scholars with diverse research interests dedicated to conducting actionable research that improves the lives of children and their communities.



Sharon Wolf on Penn's campus

Dr. Sharon Wolf, Lab Director

Dr. Sharon Wolf is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods Division. She works at the intersection of child development, education, and social policy. Dr. Wolf studies how children's early educational experiences affect their learning and development, and how policies and programs can improve these experiences, particularly for underserved children. She focuses on two primary areas related to child development: family poverty, and educational experiences and school-based interventions. Both areas incorporate applied research by using social interventions to promote children's well-being.

Dr. Wolf is also affiliated with Innovations for Poverty Action, the Penn Development Research Initiative, the Populations Studies Center, and has a secondary appointment in the Department of Psychology.

Lab Members

Autumn Brown

Doctoral Student, Penn Graduate School of Education 

Autumn is a doctoral student and Research Fellow in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods program at Penn GSE. Autumn joins the lab after a ten-year career as an international aid and development practitioner specializing in the monitoring and evaluation of Education in Emergencies programs. Autumn's research interests are centered around leveraging her experience as a practitioner to generate actionable evidence on how to best measure and implement interventions to improve children's social and emotional well-being across understudied contexts.

Anahita Kumar

Doctoral Student, Penn Graduate School of Education  

Anahita is a Ph.D. student researching experimental and behavioral interventions such as cash transfers and nudges to promote healthy child development. She researches household stress, parent engagement, risk, resilience, and food insecurity. Anahita is originally from Mumbai, India, and prior to doctoral studies, was a graduate fellow at UNESCO in Ethiopia supporting early childhood development and school food insecurity projects, and a program consultant at AFAHO in Philadelphia, PA.

Noelle Suntheimer

Doctoral Student, Penn Graduate School of Education

Noelle is a second-year doctoral student studying the effects of early adversity exposure and family poverty, risk measurement, and child development and learning across different contexts and cultures. Prior to beginning doctoral studies, Noelle worked at the University of Texas Steve Hicks School of Social Work as a program evaluator on the AdoptUSKids project. In her down time, she enjoys hiking with her dog Roscoe, visiting farmer's markets, and experimenting in the kitchen.

Berta Bartoli

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Berta is a Research Assistant at the lab, researching the interactions between parents and children in various contexts and exploring how they affect children's SEL and academic outcomes. She is interested in investigating how educational systems and their broader sociocultural and political environments can affect children's educational outcomes and influence their academic motivation. She grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, which drives her interest in improving educational quality and access in developing countries.

Crishnaa Joshi

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab  

Crishnaa Joshi is a Research Assistant at the lab, studying parental engagement and quality expectations in early childhood education in Ghana. Her primary research interest is in learning about risk and resilience in children and youth with the ultimate goal of creating school and family-based interventions for low-income communities in India. She was born and raised in Bangalore, India, where she pursued a psychology undergraduate degree and trained as a personal safety educator.

Previous lab members

Dr. Esinam Ami Avornyo

Current position: Research Fellow, University of Cape Coast

Dr. Syeda-Farwa Fatima

Current position: Research Scientist, Amazon

Dr. Nneka Ibekwe

Current position: Postdoctoral fellow at the Researchers Investigating Sociocultural Equity and Race (RISER) Network, Boston University; Graduate Teaching Fellow, Harvard University

Dr. Selene Sunmin Lee

Current position: Associate Research Scientist, Education Testing Service (ETS)

Dr. Luca Pesando

Current position: Assistant Professor, McGill University

What We Do

Active Projects

Parental Nudges Project in Ghana

The Parental Nudges Project (PNP) is a household-level intervention in Ghana designed in partnership with Movva Technologies to improve school-aged children’s learning outcomes in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and to address gender parity in educational outcomes. Through the program, parents and other primary caregivers receive text messages in simple English with behavioral nudges aiming to improve engagement with their children’s learning and social-emotional development. The goal of the messages is to bring parents closer to their child’s school life by prompting them to engage with their children on topics such as school, future plans and sharing how they overcame similar challenges at their age. Further, some households are randomly assigned to receive messages that promote gender-equitable outcomes in education and broader development. Partnering with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and Movva, our goal is to evaluate the impact of the text-message-based behavioral change intervention on improving parental engagement in educational activities, parental beliefs about returns to education, as well as improvements in children’s learning, enrollment, attendance and gender parity in education. The co-Principal Investigator is Dr. Elisabetta Aurino.

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Children’s Learning and Development in Ghana

This study measures the effects of COVID-19 on children’s educational and developmental outcomes and builds on the Quality Preschool For Ghana (QP4G) study , a school-randomized trial conducted in 2015-1026 when children were in pre-primary school. Children and their families have been followed in an ongoing longitudinal study. The study’s results are providing the government and development partners with unique, real-time data to inform remote-learning and social-protection efforts, as well as the re-opening of schools which started in January 2021. The co-Principal Investigator is Dr. Elisabetta Aurino.

Quality for Preschool in Ghana project logo

Quality Preschool for Ghana

Working with Innovations for Poverty Action and Ghana's Ministry of Education, this project developed and evaluated a teacher in-service and coaching program, with and without parental awareness meetings, to evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches in improving kindergarten quality and children's school readiness in Ghana. We found the teacher-training and coaching model improved classroom quality and children's literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills. We have been following the children ever since, are currently planning for our sixth round of data collection when children are in their fourth and fifth grades of primary school.   The co-Principal Investigators are Drs. Lawrence Aber, Jere R. Behrman, and Elisabetta Aurino.

SEME (Soutenir les Enfants a la Maison et a l’Ecole, or Keeping Children at Home and School) Project logo

SEME: Soutenir les Enfants a la Maison et a l’Ecole (Promoting Learning and Reducing Child Labor in Côte d’Ivoire Through Family- and School-based Interventions)

In Côte d’Ivoire, educational quality and learning outcomes are very low, especially in rural cocoa-growing regions. Both poverty and the lack of quality and relevant education can push children out of school and into family farming. Partnering with the Ivorian government and an international NGO, we are testing a two-pronged approach to improve children’s schooling outcomes, testing individually and in combination two interventions: unconditional cash transfers and educational-quality improvement through Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) paired with e-coaching.  We use a cluster-randomized design to assign villages to (i) cash transfers, (ii) TaRL, (iii) cash transfers and TaRL, and (iv) controls. The co-Principal Investigators are Drs. Samuel Kembou, Kaja Jasinska, and Amy Ogan.

Early adversity and children's school readiness

This project uses several datasets to explore how cumulative exposure to different types of early adversity–namely threat and deprivation–are associated with various domains of children's school readiness skills, as well as how children's relationship with their teachers moderates or exacerbates these associations. 

Completed Projects

EDUQ+: Evaluating the Impact of Text and Audio Messages for Parents and Teachers in Côte d’Ivoire (2018-2019)

Engaging parents in their children’s education via text messages has been shown to be effective at increasing children’s attendance in school and improving grades in Brazil, but it is unclear whether this model could be adapted to poorer countries where teacher absenteeism is high and many parents are illiterate. This randomized evaluation tests two versions of this model, using text and audio messages for parents either with or without messages to teachers in Côte d‘Ivoire. We measured impacts on student learning outcomes, child labor, parental engagement, and teacher professional outcomes.

Household Food Insecurity and Early Childhood Development in Ghana (2015-2018)

Household food security, defined as stable access to sufficient and nutritious food, is critical in the early years to meet a child’s developmental needs. In Ghana, we used longitudinal data on preschool-aged children and their households to investigate how household food insecurity was associated with early childhood development outcomes across three years. Children who experienced spells of household food insecurity had lower literacy, numeracy, and short-term memory on average. The co-Principal Investigator is Dr. Elisabetta Aurino.

Mentoring and Experiential Learning for Early Education Student Teachers in Ghana (2016-2017)

With the support of Innovations for Poverty Action, Sabre Charitable Trust, and Ghana Education Service in Ghana’s Western region, this study sought to evaluate a teacher-training and in-classroom coaching program delivered to student-teachers during their pre-service certification prior to teaching kindergarten. The intensive program was implemented through the student-teaching year, and these individuals were followed as newly-qualified teachers one and two years later. Preliminary results indicate that the program significantly improved student teachers’ implementation and knowledge of the national kindergarten curriculum. However, in the first year of posting as newly qualified teachers, these changes did not translate into improved teaching quality or impacts on child learning outcomes.

Illustration of people reading

Publications

Our publications range from topics of teacher well-being and mental health, risk and resilience and child development, poverty and child development, program evaluation, and global pre-primary education.

Visit the RIPPLE Lab on ScholarlyCommons to browse our publications library.

Media

Podcasts

Ghana’s Parent Trap. Rough Translation Podcast, Season 2 Episode 2. 
National Public Radio (NPR). June 20, 2019
https://www.npr.org/2018/06/15/620313693/ghanas-parent-trap

What We Can Learn From Ghana's Obsession With Preschool.
Aizenman, N., WAER All Things Considered. June 19, 2018 
http://waer.org/post/when-it-comes-preschool-does-father-really-know-best

Preschools In Ghana's Capital Challenge Call-And-Response System. Morning Edition.
National Public Radio (NPR). May 20, 2018  
https://www.npr.org/2018/05/30/615388576/preschools-in-ghana-s-capital-challenge-call-and-response-system

Press

Children are going hungry, and their futures are on the line. Evidence from Ghana. Elisabetta Aurino and Sharon Wolf. The Conversation. November 11, 2020. https://theconversation.com/children-are-going-hungry-and-their-futures-are-on-the-line-evidence-from-ghana-148936

Food insecurity and its consequences for children’s development. Elisabetta Aurino and Sharon Wolf. April 20, 2020. Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD). https://bold.expert/food-insecurity-and-its-consequences-for-childrens-development-covid-19-intensifies-the-problem/

Effects of harsh and violent discipline on child behavioural outcomes. Ghana News Agency. October 9, 2019 https://newsghana.com.gh/effects-of-harsh-and-violent-discipline-on-child-behavioural-outcomes/

Shaping Ghana’s Preschools: Converging Children’s Skills, Program Impacts, & Family Involvement. Dr. Yaw Amponsah Adoo. February 11, 2019. https://www.modernghana.com/news/915070/shaping-ghanas-preschools-converging-childrens.html

The perils and promises of listening to parents. Sharon Wolf. June 15, 2018. Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD). https://bold.expert/the-perils-and-promises-of-listening-to-parents/

Innovative training programme for KG teachers improves child learning – Research General News, Ghana Web. October 14, 2017 https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Innovative-training-programme-for-KG-teachers-improves-child-learning-Research-590813

Study Looks at Link Between Readiness, Post-Recession Rise in Poverty.  Hinton, M., Education Week.  July 24, 2017  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/early_years/2017/07/great_recession_changed_neighborhoods_affected_school_readiness_study_finds.html

Study: With more U.S. children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, schools will see impact. Downey, M., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 17, 2017 https://www.ajc.com/blog/get-schooled/study-with-more-children-living-high-poverty-neighborhoods-schools-will-see-impact/g69FLj4T6Cn4ZQtpaNnqMN/ 

More children living in high-poverty neighborhoods following Great Recession. Rice University. July 16, 2017  http://www.pressreleasepoint.com/more-children-living-high-poverty-neighborhoods-following-great-recession 

"When 2017 Ghana Education Evidence Summit ends " Amoah, A.K., Ghana Education, Ghana Web. April 4, 2017 https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/When-2017-Ghana-Education-Evidence-Summit-ends-525303

Sharon Wolf brings expertise in early childhood to Penn GSE, Ghana. Penn GSE Newsroom. September 19, 2016 https://www.gse.upenn.edu/news/sharon-wolf-brings-expertise-early-childhood-penn-gse-ghana

Contact Us

Sharon Wolf, Ph.D.
Email: wolfs@upenn.edu
Twitter: @WolfsSharon

Lab Inquiries:
Berta Bartoli
Email: bbartoli@upenn.edu