Just a few months ago, Amanda DellaGrotta completed her MPH at Brown’s School of Public Health. Now, she is already putting into practice the skills she learned in the program and as a Hassenfeld Institute Summer Scholar.
Amanda is currently an epidemiologist for the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), where she is assisting in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been examining the incidence of COVID-19 in the state’s child care centers.
“As you can imagine, things are busy on the COVID-19 unit. I’ve been able to put on my maternal-and-child-health hat,” Amanda said.
Amanda, who was a Hassenfeld Summer Scholar in 2019, said the Hassenfeld Institute’s great reputation was one of the reasons she decided to get her MPH from Brown. She knew she wanted to work with Patrick Vivier, M.D., MPH, the Hassenfeld Institute’s director.
“I was fortunate to be accepted into the Hassenfeld program and to work with Patrick, who introduced me to the third-grade reading project,” Amanda said.
The Hassenfeld Institute has been examining third-grading reading proficiency in Rhode Island as a key indicator of school success. As a summer scholar, Amanda worked with Michelle Rogers, Ph.D., director of the Hassenfeld Institute’s Data Core, to analyze data from RIDOH, the state Department of Education, and the Department of Children, Youth and Families. She also worked closely with Colleen Caron, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with DCYF.
“Among the children who had at least one contact with DCYF, 24 percent were reading proficient, which is lower than the state average of 40 percent,” Amanda said. "In addition, when controlling for other risk factors, children who had at least one contact with DCYF were 1.6 times more likely than children with no DCYF contact to be non-reading proficient by the end of third grade."
Amanda and Dr. Rogers looked at a series of risk factors that contribute to a lack of reading proficiency, such as whether a child receives free or reduced-price school meals, race, and gender. This information can help researchers to inform policies and programs that can help children who are at risk and their families.
“We found that children involved in DCYF have a range of socio-demographic factors that are significantly associated with poor reading proficiency. The main takeaway is that any child referred to DCYF is a child at risk. When a child is referred to DCYF, the agency can engage the family by asking parents if they’re reading to their child at night and whether they have enough books at home,” Amanda said.
Amanda has always had an interest in children’s health and education and has worked in both fields. Prior to joining Brown’s MPH program, she worked for a nonprofit in the Mississippi Delta to improve health and education outcomes for children there, and she previously worked with elementary-aged children in the classroom.
“I realized the connection between health and school performance. I feel very passionate about making sure children across the world have equitable education and opportunities to achieve in school and beyond,” Amanda said.
Now, working at RIDOH during the coronavirus pandemic has given Amanda the opportunity to follow another possible career path where she can apply her skills and experience. In working with her team to manage cases of COVID-19 in child care programs and mitigate the spread of the disease in these settings, Amanda has found a new way to continue her passion for supporting safe, appropriate education for children.
“Overall, it’s been a wild but rewarding experience,” Amanda said.