Emily Pressler, postdoctoral research scholar at the Neuroscience and Education Lab
by Megan Zhang
Emily Pressler, a postdoctoral research scholar at the Neuroscience and Education Lab, earned her PhD in Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests surround improving the school success of low-income students and exploring how out-of-school environments may support or thwart the well-being of children and their families. I spoke with Emily to learn more about her findings and her research goals.
As a postdoctoral research scholar, what underlying theme drives your research?
Emily: Globally speaking, I am interested in the ways in which poverty impacts child development and well-being. I hope that my research will contribute to the poverty-related literature by examining the processes and people that impact children living in poverty (for better or for worse). My research is conducted via more dynamic measures and methods for understanding risk and its impact on child development over time.
How might a negative out-of-school environment manifest itself in children’s academic and socio-emotional outcomes?
Emily: Currently we know a lot about the ways that the home or neighborhood environment may negatively impact children’s academic and socio-emotional functioning across many contexts. We know that children living in poverty are often exposed to more dangerous and physically toxic environments than their higher-income peers, and sadly the health care that low-income women and children need is often inconsistent or non-existent. So low-income children may be absent more from school, have problems getting to school, may arrive at school hungry, or may be less cognitively and behaviorally equipped to keep up the with the demands of the school day than than their higher-income peers. Living in poverty is also stressful for both parents and their children. Often the stress of making ends meet may alter the ways in which parents to interact with their children, or even remove a parent almost entirely from the household, as low-income parents often work multiple jobs or non-standard work hours. Low-income households may also lack the resources to provide cognitively engaging or enriching materials and activities for their children to support their interests, as family funds are channeled to meeting basic needs like food and rent. Single parents, who are their children’s only caretaker, may often be emotionally overwhelmed or distant. Alternatively, older siblings may be thrust into a care-taker role to help mom or dad, and may then miss days of school to care for an elderly family member, or arrive to school late after dropping off younger siblings. Long story short, even in less extreme cases of neglect, abuse, and violence, what happens outside of school can alter the way in which children feel, act, and think inside school.
What factors or parenting strategies might help buffer or protect children from the adverse effects of poverty?
Emily: I think we can never underestimate the positive impacts that an involved, caring, and warm adult can have on the life outcomes of low-income children. Whether these individuals are parents, family members, teachers, or neighbors, much research has found that the presence of an engaged and active adult can have many positive lasting impacts on children’s academic, emotional, and behavioral well-being. Sometimes children and adolescents start getting off track when they encounter seemingly normal bumps in the road; having someone around to encourage them to keep trying at math, ask how their day was, or help them make a new plan to overcome problem X, can make a big difference.
Do you have an ultimate career goal that you hope to achieve?
Emily: In five years I see myself continuing a program of research aimed at improving the school outcomes of low-income children. I hope that ultimately I become as methodologically and conceptually savvy as my colleagues at NEL.
Thank you for sitting down to chat, Emily, and for your ongoing contributions to NEL!