Improving the lives of children and young adults in New Hampshire and beyond

Friday, March 15, 2019
UNH graduate students work with child and maternal health partners as part of the NH-ME LEND program. Photo by Perry Smith.

Megan Rounds ’18G spent much of the past year digging into a survey about developmental screening rates at New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services. Savanah Lacasse ’18G surveyed 200 families from birthing facilities around New Hampshire to help assess newborn hearing detection processes.

They’re among two dozen graduate students each year who embark on clinical research and policy work with community child and maternal health partners, particularly those who serve children with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders. These future healthcare leaders are trainees in the New Hampshire-Maine Leadership in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (NH-ME LEND), a collaboration between UNH’s Institute on Disability (IOD), Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine and the University of Maine’s Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies.

“The ultimate goal of NH-ME LEND is to improve the health and lives of children and youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities by preparing leaders to enter the field of maternal and child health,” says NH-ME LEND training director Betsy Humphreys, who notes that the interdisciplinary nature of the nine-month training program prepares students to navigate the complexities of child and maternal healthcare. They’re guided by a team from UNH — including clinical assistant professor of nutrition Maggie Begis, associate professor of occupational therapy Shelley Mulligan, associate professor of social work Patrick Shannon, professor of health management and policy Rosemary Caron and clinical associate professor of communication sciences and disorders Rae Sonnenmeier — as well as from Dartmouth.

Even as trainees, their clinical work with dozens of partners (ranging from Families First in Portsmouth, N.H., to the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council)

“We’re hearing from our state partners that they’re under-resourced and their relationship with the LEND project has allowed them to advance projects that might otherwise be delayed.”

advances the field.

“We’re hearing from our state partners that they’re under-resourced and their relationship with the LEND project has allowed them to advance projects that might otherwise be delayed,” says Humphreys.


Successful Transitions from School to Work


For the one in 10 youth and young adults with emotional and behavioral challenges in the United States, the future is often bleak. Half of them drop out of high school each year, and they have high rates of trauma and antisocial behavior.

Crowd of students in a school
RENEW, a signature program of the Institute on Disability, supports the school-to-career transition process for vulnerable youth. Photo by Dan Habib.

JoAnne Malloy, research associate professor and director of another signature program of the IOD called RENEW (Rehabilitation for Empowerment, Natural Supports, Education, and Work), a school- to-career transition planning process, tells the story of an eighth-grader in Concord, N.H. “He was struggling in school, getting sent to the office and getting suspended quite a bit,” she recalls. On the cusp of his transition to high school, a RENEW facilitator — one of dozens who work in 10 high schools and seven community mental health centers in New Hampshire — met with the boy, some teachers, his high school counselor and his mother to identify goals and implement a strategy for success as he defined it.

“He’s at New England College now,” Malloy says. “There was no way he was heading for college when I met him.” The achievement is a testament not only to the hard work of the young man and those who support him, but also to the research- backed RENEW intervention.

That student is no outlier: RENEW has substantially increased the high school completion, employment and post-secondary education participation rates among vulnerable youth. And with significant funding from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Science as well as state and local school districts and agencies, the program’s success has spread beyond the Granite State to 11 other states as well as the country of Denmark.


Partners in College Preparedness

In high schools across New Hampshire, administrators and parents express concerns about their students’ “college-readiness,” particularly in writing. Yet English teachers in secondary schools may have limited opportunities to witness and discuss current college writing expectations, and college-level teachers of first-year writing courses may not be acquainted with the high school writing contexts with which their students are familiar.

Since 2014, Alecia Magnifico and Christina Ortmeier-Hooper, both faculty members in UNH’s English department, have led an initiative aimed at bridging that divide and better preparing high school students for college success. Their project, the UNH School-University Dialogues, has brought together high school English teachers from New Hampshire schools including Prospect Mountain in Alton, Manchester West, Exeter and Durham’s Oyster River with college writing faculty from UNH’s English department and the ESL Institute.

“The project aims to offer a model for professional development that works against the traditional top- down approaches that sometimes exist between high school and college teachers,” says Ortmeier- Hooper, associate professor of English and former director of first-year writing at UNH.

UNH School-University Dialogues provides those professional development opportunities through discussions about student writing with UNH writing scholars, expert teachers and Connors Writing Center tutors.

Magnifico, an assistant professor of English and coordinator of UNH’s English Teaching Program, and Ortmeier-Hooper are collaborating on a book about the initiative and aiming to broaden the partnerships to other schools across New Hampshire.

The goal, Ortmeier-Hooper says, “is to increase the professional capital of teachers in both settings and, at the same time, to learn more about the transitions of our student writers as they move from high schools into colleges.”