Pilot Program Aims to Help Children’s Brains Grow | PCOM
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Pilot Program Aims to Help Children’s Brains Grow

February 11, 2016

When it comes to raising their children, what parent has never asked him- or herself, “Am I doing this right?” A new pilot program at PCOM called “Water Your Child’s Brain” aims to help parents answer that question and countless others by providing the skills and social network to support effective brain development in their children.

The program, run by PCOM’s Robert Berger Pediatrics Society, consists of four sessions, each focused on a different topic— from managing their children’s behavior, to making good nutritional choices, to helping their children learn more effectively. Each week, parents participate in an informational session—led by a DO or psychology student—and learn evidence-based strategies related to that week’s topic. At the same time, their children participate in an activity that mirrors that topic.

Rosemary Vickers, DO, associate professor and chair, pediatrics, and a physician with City Line Pediatrics (PCOM’s pediatric medicine practice), found that many of the parents showed a need for these types of skills and brought it to the attention of Sarah Allen, PhD, assistant professor, psychology, who specializes in pediatric brain development and education. At the same time, Dr. Allen was approached by Dana Neumann (DO ’18) and Nicole Ferrigno (DO ’18) about unique opportunities to which they could apply their medical skills. Dr. Allen thought a program like “Water Your Child’s Brain” could address all those needs through collaboration of the DO and psychology programs.

“Before we started the project, we conducted a survey with parents from the pediatric practice to find out what they were most interested in learning about,” said Ms. Neumann, the program’s co-founder. “They all wanted to learn more about the best ways to help their children, but many don’t have the means to access similar programs. We offer this for free, so we’re trying to address that barrier.”

Ms. Neumann, Ms. Ferrigno and Dr. Allen meet regularly to determine what topics to cover, and what evidence-based strategies they can present to parents that can also be turned into a kid-friendly learning activity.

At a recent session, parents learned about the regulation of emotion and attachment, and their effects on a child’s brain. Their children participated in an exercise in which they thought of an emotion, showed it with facial expressions, and others tried to guess the emotion being expressed. They then came together to learn yoga using specially designed mats.

The first block of sessions recently ended, and parents said they found the program to be helpful when interacting with their children. Participant Kewon Scott said her daughter’s teacher sent her a report noting an improvement in her grades and behavior. “[That] makes me very happy,” she said. “It's also improving our relationship."  The Pediatrics Society and Dr. Allen are currently working to launch the second block, when they hope to begin collecting hard data on the program’s effectiveness.

In addition to helping parents their children, the program also benefits the PCOM students who participate, says Dr. Allen. “It's both interdisciplinary and community-oriented, which is what I love about it. I really think that's PCOM's niche—the ability to quickly combine students in classes or educational activities like this. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun, and they get to quickly see the benefit of a collaborative approach to health care.”

Funds for transportation, food, supplies and other supplies for participants was provided by a donation from the Hans and Dolores Levy Charitable Foundation The program leaders wish to acknowledge the help of Budd Cohen, director of dining services at PCOM; DO students Abby Kushner (DO '18) and Mary LaCoursiere (DO '18); school psychology students Julia Barta (PsyD '21) and Jessica Corrigan (PsyD '21); and the many volunteers who helped drive the program forward.

About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, non profit leadership and population health management, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.

For more information, contact:
Daniel McCunney
Associate Director, News and Media Relations
Email: danielmc1@pcom.edu
Office: 215-871-6304 | Cell: 267-449-1360

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