Aspen Institute fellows to speak at Herald-Tribune Hot Topics forum

By Elizabeth Djinis

Moderated by Tom Tryon, the panel will feature researchers on early childhood development, maternal depression, and reading to children.

SARASOTA — What can parents do to reduce stress for young children in particularly difficult situations, like growing up in extreme poverty? How can parents make more meaningful connections while reading to their children? And how can mothers suffering from post-partum depression get the treatment they need?

Some of life's biggest challenges start in early childhood, and on Feb. 24, three researchers using these inquiries to guide their work are coming to Sarasota.

Hosted by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune Media Group, the panel will focus on these questions as well as how to use the two-generational approach of working with parents and children to get better results. Both the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the Community Foundation work together to ensure more third-grade students achieve grade-level reading proficiency. Their mission aligns well with the research of these three speakers.

All three panelists were 2015 Aspen Institute Ascend fellows, a program that focuses on "leaders who are on the levers of change that are going to make the biggest difference" with a specific focus on economic and social mobility, according to Anne Mosle, executive director of Ascend and vice president of the Aspen Institute.

INTERESTED?

What: Shelter from Stress: What Every Family Needs, a lecture event sponsored by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune Media Group, to bring together national two-generation leaders on early childhood brain development, maternal depression, and a pediatrician's role in literacy.

Where: Booker VPA Center, 3201 North Orange Avenue, Sarasota

When: Friday, Feb. 24, from 3:15 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

How to register: The event is free and you can register for tickets at eventbrite.com/e/2gen-hot-topics-registration-31606000398.

Can't make it? The Herald-Tribune will broadcast the event live on Facebook, beginning at 3:15 p.m. on Friday, on our Facebook page.

LEARN MORE

Learn more about the speakers from guest columns and an op-ed in the Herald-Tribune related to the Feb. 24 Hot Topics Forum

Sunday, Feb. 19: Dr. Sarah Watamura, panelist

Tuesday, Feb. 21: Dr. Darius Tandon, panelist

Wednesday, Feb. 22: An op-ed from Anne Mosle, executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute

"We're looking for leaders who are sitting on big ideas and ready to go the quantum leap forward," Mosle said.

Dr. Dipesh Navsaria pictured with a young patient. COURTESY PHOTO/PARKER HOERTZ.

Dr. Dipesh Navsaria pictured with a young patient. COURTESY PHOTO/PARKER HOERTZ.

Dipesh Navsaria

Dr. Dipesh Navsaria is quick to shy away from the term "researcher" when referring to himself.

"I tell people I am a terrible researcher," Navsaria said. "I take other people's research and see how we can take action on it. ...I like to joke that I do reality-based medicine."

In his day job, Navsaria is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. But he has combined that with another passion — reading — to become the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin and the director of the Pediatric Early Literacy Projects at the University of Wisconsin. His academic focus is on how to improve interactions between parents and children while reading.

"If you had to pick one thing that actually drives child development, it is actually reciprocal, loving interactions," Navsaria said.

He aims to teach two aspects of reading: how health-care providers can work with parents through observing them read to their child and how parents can improve the ways they read to their child. While many of Navsaria's patients come from lower socioeconomic groups, he said many parents have trouble reading with their children regardless of their education level and socioeconomic status.

"Even if you're a highly educated resource family, it's not necessarily automatic to figure out how to interact with your kid," Navsaria said.

When Navsaria observes a parent reading aloud to their children, he looks for little signs that indicate how the child associates with the book and their parent.

"Does the kid reach out to take the book from you? Does a slightly older child take the book, study it for a moment and then hold it out to their parent? They're telling me, 'I know what this thing is, this is the thing that we both look at together and I know when I hold it out to you, you're probably going to say, 'Yes, let's do that,'" Navsaria said.

"They're telling me volumes with that one little gesture."

Sarah Enos Watamura is an associate professor in psychology at the University of Denver and the director of the school's Child Health and Development Lab.

Sarah Enos Watamura is an associate professor in psychology at the University of Denver and the director of the school's Child Health and Development Lab.

Sarah Enos Watamura

When Sarah Enos Watamura began studying how children handled stress in the early stages of development, she knew she wanted to research something different: the positives instead of the negatives.

"Most of what we're focused on is trying to understand what positive perceptive factors parents in particular are able to bring to bear in high adversity circumstances for their kids," Watamura said. "How do those protective factors become embedded in the child's biology and protect them across the long run?"

Watamura is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver, director of the Child Health and Development Lab and the co-director of the school's Stress Early Experience and Development Research Center. She conducts cognitive testing on people who have suffered what she calls "high adversity" circumstances, such as being a recent immigrant or being in extreme poverty. She then puts those patients in situations where they have to solve problems so she can better understand how they overcome obstacles.

Their real goal, according to Watamura, is to see how people are succeeding in adverse circumstances and what they can learn from that.

"Preventing a negative is not the same as promoting a positive," Watamura said. "In my personal experience, families facing a great deal of adversity have a great deal of strength."

Darius Tandon is an associate professor of medical sciences at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine. His research specializes in integrating medical health services into home-visiting programs for young mothers.

Darius Tandon is an associate professor of medical sciences at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine. His research specializes in integrating medical health services into home-visiting programs for young mothers.

Darius Tandon

While young mothers may be able to get the care they need for their child from home visiting programs, they cannot always get the same care for their own mental health, according to Darius Tandon.

"Home visiting programs and other early childhood programs do a very good job of addressing certain topics, promoting child development," Tandon said. "But there are certain areas — maternal stress, maternal depression — where these early childhood programs probably need some additional support."

Tandon is an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. His research specializes in trying to integrate mental health services in what he calls "non-mental-health settings." For young mothers, Tandon says this is critically important.

"For our research team and for me, our belief is that for a mom to be effective in her parenting, she needs to be emotionally healthy," Tandon said. "... So our feeling is that poor mental health is one of the biggest barriers to women in home visiting early childhood programs."