The Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute has announced the winners of this year’s Child Health Innovation Awards, which support projects that improve the health of children and their families in Rhode Island. For the second year in a row, the awards were given to state and community-based organizations: the Central Falls School District, Progreso Latino, and a partnership of state agencies that implement nutrition programs. In addition to $10,000 in funding, each awardee receives technical support from the Hassenfeld Institute, as well as opportunities for collaborations with Institute faculty, staff and students.
“We are thrilled to partner with stakeholders in the Rhode Island community who share our vision of making a difference in the lives of children and families, particularly among those communities that experience the greatest health disparities,” said Patrick Vivier, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Hassenfeld Institute. “The Innovation Awards allow us to support projects that make a tangible impact in the communities that we serve.”
Central Falls School District
The Central Falls School District will use the award to bolster its Lifting Rising Third-Graders in Central Falls program, a five-week summer program that aims to improve students’ literacy and math skills while also teaching them about healthy eating, wellness and mindfulness. According to recent data, more than half of students in Central Falls struggle with overweight and obesity.
“We try to take a whole-child approach, so while academic skills are essential, we are also supporting the development of our children as a whole,” said Stephanie Downey Toledo, Ed.L.D., superintendent of the Central Falls School District.
The Lifting Rising Third-Graders program builds on the research and ideals that shaped Rhode Island’s Third-Grade Reading Action Plan, a state-wide initiative of former Governor Gina Raimondo that aimed to double reading proficiency among the state’s third-graders by 2025. The state Department of Education requested assistance from the Hassenfeld Institute on this initiative to provide a strong research base to the work.
Students who participate in the Central Falls program will complete a final project that involves designing their own restaurant, giving students the opportunity to apply the math, literacy and language skills they sharpened throughout the summer. Students’ families will be invited to participate in this final celebration.
“It’s not just writing, it’s writing a menu, and it’s not just math, it’s calculating a tab. Those applications yield greater growth and retention of learning,” Dr. Downey Toledo said.
Progreso Latino is the state’s largest Latino community organization, serving thousands of people each year through dozens of care programs and services, including early childhood education and youth development. Progreso Latino will use the Innovation Award to expand its existing pre-K physical activity and healthy eating programming to provide it to school-aged children as well. The expanded programming will include a component for parents to get involved through workshops on healthy eating that will debunk nutritional myths that are common among the Latino community.
Zelma Malave, director of Progreso Latino’s early childhood and school-aged education, said the key to the program’s success will be getting parents on board with the program while being sensitive to their respective cultural backgrounds.
“Sometimes there are misconceptions about how to eat healthy, or we think it’s expensive to buy healthy foods from the store. It’s about teaching the parents that it’s not expensive, and it’s not going to take extra time to prepare these foods. They can have the foods they’re used to having in their culture, but prepared in a different way,” Malave said.
Rhode Island Department of Health, Department of Human Services and RI Governor's Office
A partnership among the state Department of Health, the state Department of Human Services and the Rhode Island Governor’s Office will use the Innovation Award to better understand how to increase family cross-enrollment among the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Education Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). In Rhode Island, the programs are run by two separate state agencies, and officials find that many families who are eligible for both programs may be enrolled in only one program. This project will leverage state agency work already under way with the federal Preschool Development Grant to address program cross-enrollment.
To address this gap, a team will pilot several interventions developed in partnership with the community. The team will include Ann Barone, chief of the Office of Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) with RIDOH; Maria Cimini, associate director for policy analysis, research, and development with RIDHS; Meg Hassan, preschool development grant manager; and Kayla Rosen, director of early childhood strategy with the RI Governor’s Office.
“Even before the pandemic, families in Rhode Island struggled with food insecurity. Now, survey data shows that nearly one in five adults with children in the household in RI report that they sometimes or often don’t have enough food to eat,” said Courtney E. Hawkins, director of the Department of Human Services. “It’s more important than ever that families can access all of the resources available to them.”
The team will rely on the Hassenfeld Institute to design and implement the study methodology, track the data, co-author the final report and help to implement the proposed interventions.
“Food security is a core, community-level determinant of health, and the data are clear that healthy early nutrition is foundational to long-term health and development outcomes for children,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, M.D., MPH, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “Through this project, we will pilot how best to address barriers for families in accessing nutrition assistance and identify practices that we can implement going forward. Along with our Health Equity Zones efforts, this is an important part of our larger work to ensure that all Rhode Islanders in every ZIP code throughout the state have an equal opportunity to be healthy and thrive.”
The Hassenfeld Institute Child Health Innovation Awards are made possible through the generous support of Alan Hassenfeld and his family, who endowed the Hassenfeld Institute in 2016. A partnership between the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Brown’s School of Public Health, the Hassenfeld Institute is transforming child health in Rhode Island through novel research, targeted treatments and collaborations with state- and community-based organizations.
Read about last year’s Innovation Awards recipients, the RI Community Food Bank and the City of Providence's Healthy Communities Office.