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

Dr. Sharon Wolf, Lab Director

Dr. Sharon Wolf is an Associate 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

Katie Brennan

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Katie holds a B.A. from Georgetown University, an Ed.M. in Education Policy from American University, and is currently pursuing a M.S.Ed. in Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Development at Penn. A primary research interest for Katie is examining the effects of economic inequities on early childhood development.  

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.

Jin Cheevaprawatdomrong

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Jin is a sophomore studying Social Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences. She holds an M.A. in Linguistics from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. Her research interest is in children's education in developing countries.

Rouchi Guo

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Rouchi is a MS.Ed in Counseling and Mental Health Service, University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests are in clinical practice, intervention, cognitive development, and mental health disorders. In the lab, she is working on research related to parental cognitive stimulation on early childhood development.

Sarah Hatch

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Sarah is a master's student in the RIPPLE lab studying the effects of parental cognitive stimulation on early childhood development. She is highly interested in learning how to promote social and emotional wellbeing among youth, and before coming to graduate school she worked with children and adolescents in various informal learning spaces. Her academic work is also informed by her undergraduate degree in Sociology and International Development, during which she conducted two impact evaluations for international non-profit organizations.

Manting Hong Profile Image

Manting Hong

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Manting is a first-year M.S.Ed. student in the Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Development program at Penn GSE. She is originally from Guangzhou, China. Before joining GSE, she founded an NPO serving marginalized children in rural China. Manting is especially interested in improving parental social and emotional well-being for children’s optimal development during the critical 0–3 years in low- and middle-income countries.

Allan Lee

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Allan is a Junior studying Economics and East Asian Area Studies. From Vancouver, Canada, he is interested in learning about how access to education has been disrupted by COVID-19 and socioeconomic factors of different families.

Abi Otwell

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Abi is a first-year M.S.Ed. student in the Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Development program. She has a background in neuroscience, molecular genetics, and sociology. Her research interests include adolescent identity development, mental health, and diversity and inclusion issues. She hopes to eventually contribute to interventions that promote positive self-development and mental health for students.

Noelle Suntheimer

Doctoral Student, Penn Graduate School of Education

Noelle is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development (ISHD) program and IES Predoctoral Fellow, where she studies the characteristics of children’s early environments and relationships across different contexts and cultures. Specifically, she is interested in identifying different measurement techniques to capture risk co-occurrence, with the potential to lead to actionable change at home and school. Prior to beginning doctoral studies, Noelle worked for six years at the University of Texas Steve Hicks School of Social Work as a program evaluator on the AdoptUSKids project. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an M.S.Ed. in ISHD from the University of Pennsylvania.

Laura Tang

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Laura is a Research Assistant at the lab studying parental cognitive stimulation and its effects on early child development. As a M.S.Ed. student in the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership program at Penn GSE, Laura explores the influence of students' lived experiences upon their perceptions of themselves and their relationships with the world, as well as how we can bolster both through creating inspiring and empowering learning experiences in the education system and beyond.

Tianyi Wang

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Tianyi is a first-year master’s student in the Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Development program. She has worked at a non-profit organization for public health and mental wellness programs among immigrant communities. Her research interests are in parenting styles, growth environments, school education, trauma response, cognitive development, and social-emotional development. She is also dedicated to exploring mental health and interventions to promote human and social well-being.

Yubo Xu

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Yubo is a second-year master's student in the Human Development program at Penn GSE. She is interested in learning the long-term impact of parenting on early childhood social development and school readiness. She is also interested in family & community-based interventions in low-middle income countries.

Deepali Barapatre

Research Assistant, RIPPLE Lab

Deepali Barapatre is a Lady Meherbai Tata Scholar and a second-year master’s student at Penn Graduate School of Education. She is currently pursuing a dual program in International Educational Development and Learning Sciences and Technologies. Deepali received her Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Mumbai in 2017. Prior to coming to Penn, Deepali worked in leadership and consulting roles with grassroots educational non-profits in India and Hong Kong for four years. Her research investigates the impact of low-tech interventions on children's learning outcomes in marginalized communities.

Anahita Kumar

Doctoral Student, Penn Graduate School of Education

Anahita is a Ph.D. student researching experimental and behavioral interventions that promote healthy child development, including cash transfers and nudges. She studies household stress, parent engagement, risk, resilience, and food insecurity. Anahita is originally from Mumbai, India. Prior to starting her doctoral studies at Penn, she was a graduate fellow at UNESCO in Ethiopia supporting early childhood development and school food insecurity projects. She was also a program consultant at AFAHO in Philadelphia, PA. She is completing her master's degree in Statistics at the Wharton School, with research based in India and West Africa.

Previous lab members

Madeline Anderson

Current position: Senior Research Associate, Alliance for Decision Education

Dr. Esinam Ami Avornyo

Current position: Research Fellow, University of Cape Coast

Berta Bartoli

Current position: Doctoral Student, New York University

Dr. Syeda-Farwa Fatima

Current position: Research Scientist, Amazon

Aanchal Gidra

Current position: Doctoral Student, Michigan State University

Siling Guo

Current position: Doctoral Student, University of California Irvine

Dr. Nneka Ibekwe

Current position: Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

Crishnaa Joshi

Current position: Doctoral Student, Temple 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. 

Completed Projects

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.

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.

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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.



Ghana’s Parent Trap. Rough Translation Podcast, Season 2 Episode 2. 
National Public Radio (NPR). June 20, 2019

What We Can Learn From Ghana's Obsession With Preschool.
Aizenman, N., WAER All Things Considered. June 19, 2018

Preschools In Ghana's Capital Challenge Call-And-Response System. Morning Edition.
National Public Radio (NPR). May 20, 2018


Children are going hungry, and their futures are on the line. Evidence from Ghana. Elisabetta Aurino and Sharon Wolf. The Conversation. November 11, 2020.

Food insecurity and its consequences for children’s development. Elisabetta Aurino and Sharon Wolf. April 20, 2020. Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD).

Effects of harsh and violent discipline on child behavioural outcomes. Ghana News Agency. October 9, 2019

Shaping Ghana’s Preschools: Converging Children’s Skills, Program Impacts, & Family Involvement. Dr. Yaw Amponsah Adoo. February 11, 2019.

The perils and promises of listening to parents. Sharon Wolf. June 15, 2018. Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD).

Innovative training programme for KG teachers improves child learning – Research General News, Ghana Web. October 14, 2017

Study Looks at Link Between Readiness, Post-Recession Rise in Poverty.  Hinton, M., Education Week.  July 24, 2017

Study: With more U.S. children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, schools will see impact. Downey, M., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 17, 2017 

More children living in high-poverty neighborhoods following Great Recession. Rice University. July 16, 2017 

"When 2017 Ghana Education Evidence Summit ends " Amoah, A.K., Ghana Education, Ghana Web. April 4, 2017

Sharon Wolf brings expertise in early childhood to Penn GSE, Ghana. Penn GSE Newsroom. September 19, 2016

Contact Us

Sharon Wolf, Ph.D.
Twitter: @WolfsSharon

Lab Inquiries:
Berta Bartoli