My past, present, and future working with children
Ever since I was a young, I was certain that I someday wanted to work with children. At first, I thought that meant being a first grade teacher. And then I decided I wanted to be a pediatric dietician. Now, as a premed student, though I may still be deciding on an exact discipline of medicine, I know that I want my work to involve children. Throughout high school, I babysat kids in my neighborhood whenever I could and worked with Yes! Leads, an organization that visited elementary schools to teach young students about making positive decisions, especially when it came to the drugs and alcohol. Three years later as a junior in college, I find the same joy in being a PRYDE Scholar as I did with my other activities.
I have no regrets about my decision to come to Cornell for my undergraduate education. The amount of opportunities is inspiring, though also daunting at times. I enjoyed the organizations and clubs I joined, but I felt something was missing – none of them worked with children. Often, the programs through Cornell that involve working with children are located far away from campus or are difficult to fit into a busy student schedule.
I also knew that I wanted to do research at Cornell to help develop my critical thinking and analytical skills. As I began to look into research opportunities at Cornell, I found that I wanted to be in a lab that would work with people, especially children. Fortunately, I was lucky to learn about the PRYDE Scholars Program. The premise of working with 4-H communities around New York State was very intriguing. I knew I had to apply.
I became even more excited for this opportunity when I learned about the specific project I would be working on. The project involves traveling to a charter school in Syracuse, NY to present to grades K-4 about neuroscience and the brain. Additionally, we are looking to see if an emphasis on growth mindset or purpose can influence academic achievement at such a young age. Growth mindset has proved to be effective in older students in high school or college, so it will be interesting to see if it has the same impact on elementary school students.
We go to Syracuse once a month for these presentations, which we call “Get to Know Your Brain Days,” and our first visit was just last week. It was absolutely incredible. As we were developing the materials for the presentations, we approached the study knowing that we may not find any influences on achievement at such a young age. However, we also thought that even our neutral condition, teaching the students about the brain, would be great exposure to a fascinating field of science. After our first visit, we knew this was true.
The students at the elementary school were extremely receptive to our presentations and to the knowledge we wanted to share with them. They were engaged with the activities we did and were so excited when we went over to their tables to talk to them. After our presentations, we gave each student a brain-shaped stress ball to take home and decorate if they desired. The children were thrilled to have us there, and we even got a few hugs as we left the classrooms as a thank you for visiting. One student was disappointed when we told her it would be another month before we were back again.
As we debriefed with the school dean after all of the presentations, we were able to reflect on what we had accomplished. Many of the students already knew some of the things we were teaching about the brain as a baseline, but the dean assured us that seeing college students present and interact with them was a highlight of their day or even their week. Exposing them to older students who could act as mentors could make a tremendous impact on these children, even if we did not find any explicit difference in achievement for our study.
This first day of presentations reminded me why I love working with kids and why the PRYDE program is so unique. Impacting children in a positive way when they are young can truly make a difference in their lives. The PRYDE Scholars Program has allowed me to reconnect with children and make a difference in their lives, one presentation at a time. Although we have only visited the school once so far, I know this experience will be one of the most meaningful things I do at Cornell. Without the PRYDE Scholars Program, I would not have the opportunity to work directly with children in such a meaningful way during my time at Cornell. I know this experience will teach me valuable skills in research and working with children that I will be able to take with me into my future endeavors as a doctor or healthcare provider. The PRYDE Scholars Program is not only creating opportunities for the scholars at Cornell University, but it is making an impact on children across New York State.