Child & Adolescent Life Stories: Perspectives from Youth, Parents, and Teachers

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Marguerite G. Lodico & Katherine H. Voegtle

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    In memory of Kathy's parents, Betty and Thomas Voegtle. In memory of Marguerite's dad, Peter Guadagni.

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    Acknowledgments

    To paraphrase a wise saying about child development, it takes a whole community to birth a book! Here we would like to thank all of the people who have contributed to the making of this book.

    First and most essential were the youth, parents, and teachers who were willing to share their lives with us and discuss some often painful or difficult experiences. It was their willingness to reflect deeply on the people and events in their lives and their ability to communicate their insights in an articulate and moving manner that made this book possible. We have attempted to preserve, as much as possible, the eloquent words that they used to describe their life stories. Their stories were our inspiration to complete this book, and they helped us appreciate even more profoundly the rich complexity of human development.

    Our college, The College of Saint Rose, has also been a generous supporter of this project from its inception. The college granted us sabbatical leaves during the same academic year (based on a joint application) to conduct our research and collaborate on writing. Since a book usually has a gestation period of longer than nine months (the academic year) and requires financial commitments, our college also provided professional development grants to support our research and awarded us course reductions during two different semesters to continue our writing and conduct research for the pedagogical sections of the book. One of our strongest supporters has been Crystal Gips, Dean of the School of Education. It is an indication of the commitment that The College of Saint Rose and Dean Gips place on excellent teaching and scholarship that they have supported us so fully throughout this project.

    Our three graduate assistants, Maggie Russom, Gina Ciccone, and Elizabeth Gerron, also gave invaluable assistance to us. Maggie's efforts came early on as she cheerfully transcribed many pages of interviews and helped with data analysis. She also made contacts with families and assisted in interviewing. Gina so impressed us with her skill in editing cases that we asked her to conduct interviews and write a case. As anyone who reads her case, “Frank: Confronting Change and Taking a Stand in Middle School,” can see, she was a professional in every sense of the word and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to her. Liz's contributions came toward the end of the writing process. She provided valuable assistance in writing discussion questions, collecting Web resources, and editing and formatting the final drafts.

    Members of our Department of Educational Psychology have also supported us in many ways. James Allen sparked our initial interest in case studies through his research on teaching with cases and his superb modeling of how cases could be used in teaching. Aviva Bower stimulated our interest in narrative studies and offered her expertise in qualitative research. She also piloted cases in her classes on child and adolescent development and provided editorial suggestions. Other members of our department filled in for us when we were on leave and offered support and creative suggestions to us as we worked. Our department chairs, Ismael Ramos and Richard Brody, graciously found replacements to teach our courses.

    While everyone suffers a bit from evaluation anxiety, we have nothing but gratitude for the reviewers who provided extensive comments and suggestions after reading our prospectus and drafts of our cases. Specifically, we would like to express our thanks to Karen M. Dutt-Doner at Niagara University, M. Randal Spaid at Mercer University, and anonymous reviewers at William Patterson University and Texas A&M University, Kingsville, for reviewing our prospectus. Thanks are also due to Miles Anthony Irving at Georgia State University; Judith Rhoden at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Linda R. Kroll at Mills College; Deanna Nekovei at Texas A&M University, Kingsville; and Karen M. Dutt-Doner at Niagara University for reviewing the drafts of the cases. Our reviewers certainly helped us develop our ideas about the book and helped make the cases more readable and useful as teaching tools.

    It has also been a pleasure to work with Diane McDaniel, our editor at Sage, and the members of Sage's editorial and production staff. Diane was so positive and encouraging at the start that she helped us believe in ourselves. She gently urged us on at each stage of the project and seemed to understand when we needed additional time or support. Her facilitation of the review process greatly simplified our job. Marta Peimer, our editorial assistant, eased the transition from writing to production and kept us well organized. They have made the overwhelming task of writing a book seem doable.

    Finally, we would like to thank our families and significant others for their emotional support and creative input. Kathy's brother, Tom, made invaluable contacts for us with school districts and families and educated us about the joys and perils of urban education. Kathy's partner, Jim, made many meals, listened to endless diatribes about inflexible schools, provided needed comic relief, and read and edited cases with the precision and astuteness that so endear this well-read philosopher to her. Marguerite's husband, Phil, supported her throughout this entire project. With his clear and focused legal mind, he gently critiqued the logic and flow of each case. Marguerite's two children, Philip and Andrea, provided constant encouragement and always believed that this book would be a reality.

    Introduction

    Using Cases to Understand Human Development

    How many times can you recall a child saying to you, “Tell me a story”? Children understand that stories are fun ways to learn about the world around them. Developmental researchers are also beginning to appreciate the power of stories in teaching about children and adolescents, although they often use more sophisticated terms, such as case studies, autobiographies, life stories, or narratives, to describe their stories. A growing number of researchers are looking to qualitative methods as ways of both studying and teaching about human development (Bruner, 1990; Corcoran, 1996; Jessor & Colby, 1996; Mayo, 2002; Vitz, 1990). In part, this reflects dissatisfaction with the overly quantitative methods frequently used to study development. Mishler (1996) has argued that developmental research that primarily studies variables in large populations has lost sight of the individual person and the importance of unique “deviations” from general patterns by individuals. Bruner (1990) has described how he began his professional life as a developmental researcher using mostly quantitative methods, but gradually came to value stories or narratives as a “mode of knowing” used by children to understand their own lives and to find their place within their culture. More recent researchers have used ethnographic methods, including interviews, observations, and narrative analysis, to more fully represent the experiences of youth and their perspectives on a wide variety of social issues (Carger, 1996; Fine & Weiss, 2003; Kozol, 2000).

    This book was written to help persons taking or teaching courses in human development reassert the importance of studying and understanding individual children and their stories by using qualitative methods, specifically case studies, as teaching and learning tools. Case studies have a long history as research methods in studying human development (e.g., Erikson, 1968; Freud, 1963; Maslow, 1970), although the use of cases to teach about development is a more recent trend. When we started to use cases in teaching about development, we struggled with the question of what type of cases could help students understand the full context of children's lives, including the influences of family, community, and culture. As professors of educational psychology, we wanted students to think about the complex array of factors that influence development over the course of a child's or adolescent's life. Development is a complicated process that occurs within a large social context. In order to fully understand that social context and its influence on development, we felt that students needed to consider perspectives from the youth themselves as well as other significant individuals in their social setting. Available cases were typically written only from one perspective (the youth or a teacher) or were very brief with little background or contextual information.

    Therefore, we decided to write case studies of children and adolescents from a variety of settings and backgrounds that included the perspectives of the youth, their parents, and their teachers. In this book, these different perspectives, which may or may not be in agreement, give you an opportunity to see and analyze development using a variety of windows. The cases presented in this book are all life histories, in that they include information from all parts of the youths’ lives. Some of the cases are detailed portraits of many events and relationships in the youth's life and others are briefer accounts of a few critical incidents and relationships with just enough contextual information to understand these particulars. For clarity and to avoid unnecessarily creating new jargon, we have used the term “case study” to apply to all of the stories in this book.

    This introduction will describe how these case studies were developed and how they can be used in classes on human development. In addition, it will identify the organizational aids included in this book and suggest strategies for reading and analyzing cases in human development courses.

    How the Case Studies were Developed

    As noted above, our initial goal in writing this book was to develop case studies of children with diverse backgrounds who represented the full range of ages covered in courses on child and adolescent development. The youth and families were selected based on referrals from teachers and colleagues who worked closely with families in a variety of settings. We used a criterion-based purposive sampling method, asking our contacts to identify families with children and parents from different family structures and sociocultural backgrounds who would be willing to talk about their personal histories. As we completed each case study, we looked for families who were different in some way from the ones we had completed (e.g., based on the child's age, gender, family background, or personal challenges faced by the youth).

    Another consideration was that the cases would allow discussion of many of the issues included in these development courses, such as nature versus nurture, teenage pregnancy, death of a loved one, academic difficulties, self-esteem, living with a disability, establishing peer relationships, finding one's identity, parenting styles, child abuse, and domestic violence.

    We met with each youth and parent to talk about the nature and goals of the project. Specifically, they were told that we had three goals: (1) to create stories or case studies about the lives of children and teenagers in the United States today, (2) to produce a book containing these stories that would be used by students who were studying about children or preparing to become class-room teachers, and (3) to use this book to help these students understand what is important in the lives of children and teenagers. The potential participants were told that they would have a chance to review and make corrections to transcripts of their interviews and give their approval for us to use this information in the final case study write-up. For the younger children, transcript and case study reviews were done by the parent. In the final case studies, names of the participants and the name and location of the school at which the observations occurred were changed to maintain confidentiality. However, all of the cases depict real youth in real-world settings.

    For each case study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a youth, parent, and teacher in order to obtain a variety of perspectives. The locations and times of the interviews were set up to be convenient and comfortable for the participants. At least two interviews were conducted with the youth, and typically one with the teacher and the parent or guardian. Informal conversations with youth, teachers, and parents or guardians provided additional information summarized in field notes, which was sometimes used in the cases. The cases included youth from urban, suburban, and rural areas in midwestern, northeastern, and southeastern states. We developed a set of broad questions that were posed to all youth (the language was adapted to be appropriate to the age of the youth), asking them to tell us about significant relationships that they had formed with others and the events and activities in their lives that they felt were important. The questions focused on specifics about each child's life, including the child's interests, activities, goals, relationships with others, school and academic experiences, happy and sad times, and other issues, events, or problems. A similar set of questions was designed for their parents and teachers to provide multiple perspectives on similar issues and events. In all interviews, the questions formed a starting point for discussion and the participants were encouraged to talk freely about whatever they felt was significant in their lives. Participants were told that they had the right to decline to answer any question and withdraw from the project at any time. While no participants declined to participate, many youth did redirect the course of the interview by focusing on particular events and relationships that had a powerful impact on them. At the end of each interview, participants were invited to share anything that they felt was important that had not been discussed in the interview and were then asked to highlight the things that they felt absolutely had to be included in their case study. The interviews were tape-recorded and then transcribed for analysis. A series of naturalistic observations, using both participant and nonparticipant approaches, were conducted by accompanying the youth to events in school or community settings or simply observing classroom or community activities in which the youth participated. The observations were set up in consultation with the youth, their parents or guardians, and teachers. The number and length of the observations varied with the youth. Sometimes we accompanied a youth to a favorite place or event. In other observations, we sat in on classes, concerts, or other events at the youth's school.

    We collected our data during sequential sabbatical leaves from teaching in which one of us was intensely involved in interviewing and observation while the other served as a peer debriefer. Data were analyzed as we collected it, and initial themes and issues were identified first by the person who collected the data. The peer debriefer also reviewed transcripts and field notes to check on the credibility of the analysis. We selected events, themes, and quotes to highlight in each case based on two criteria: (1) Did the selection accurately represent the life of the youth from one or more perspectives, and (2) Would the selection allow analysis of issues relevant to the study of child and adolescent development? All youth and their parents had a chance to review the final cases. We then piloted the cases in undergraduate and graduate classes in Child and Adolescent Development and in some graduate courses in Educational Psychology. Based on feedback from our students, colleagues who used the cases in their classes, and our own observations, we added contextual and background information and rewrote sections of the cases to facilitate analysis and clarify sections of the cases.

    Organization of the Book

    Each case study in this book tells the youth's life story, including the events and relationships that have influenced the child or adolescent and his or her physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. The case studies are organized chronologically according to the age of the youth at the time of the interview. The cases range from early childhood (the youngest child was four years old) through late adolescence (the oldest youth was 18 years old). Since each case study is a life history, however, it may cover events and issues from multiple ages. As noted earlier, cases also vary in length. Some cases depict many events over the course of the child's or adolescent's life in detail, while others focus on a couple of key events or relationships. This variety provides more flexibility in how the cases can be used. Brief cases are good starting points for the process of case analysis or for illustrating selected concepts without the complexity of a full life history. Longer case studies are useful in thinking about ways to apply broader theories of development or how different aspects of development (e.g., cognitive, social, emotional, moral) might be interrelated.

    Each case begins with a bulleted list of Primary and Secondary Issues addressed in the case. Don't expect all of the terms to be included in the case. These are issues that most likely are addressed in developmental courses, and they can serve as advance organizers to help you begin to identify the important information presented in the case. At the end of each case are Discussion Questions, Applying Theoretical Perspectives Questions, Class Activities, and Research Suggestions. The questions and activities may also help you to decide what information from the case to highlight or record, while the research suggestions provide ideas for further study. One of the values of teaching with case studies is that they allow you to explore topics that are not covered in detail in most textbooks (e.g., family alcoholism). To help you make sense of these “extra” topics, we have included Readings and Resources for additional research at the end of each case. These Readings and Resources may be assigned prior to reading the case or incorporated into class presentations.

    Textbooks and courses in human development typically take either an age-graded or topical approach. A Chart of Cases organized chronologically by the age of the child and summarizing background information and issues for each case is included at the end of this introduction. It can be used to get an overview of the cases before reading them and to decide which ones you want to read or include in the course. If your course takes an age-graded approach, we suggest that you analyze cases based on the age of the child at the end of the unit covering that age period. This allows you to consider multiple aspects of development and examine how the different areas of development are interconnected. If your course takes a topical approach, the Chart of Cases can help to see which cases cover issues addressed by each topic. Since most cases include issues typically covered by several chapters of a topical developmental text, the cases can also help you review information from earlier chapters or integrate information across chapters. Since these case studies are based on real-life histories, they are often messy (e.g., they include many complex issues) and do not match up completely with the organization or content of developmental textbooks. We have found that one advantage of the holistic nature of case studies is they allow you to build on earlier learning and develop a more complete picture of the whole child.

    Additionally, following the Chart of Cases you will find a set of Connecting Across Cases questions (questions that include issues addressed in several cases) designed to encourage students to think about how certain issues influence youth in different ways. Some of these questions identify specific cases for analysis and others allow you to select cases for discussion. When the Connecting Across Cases questions are tied to specific cases, the questions are also referenced after the Applying Theoretical Perspective section in the case.

    Strategies for Analyzing Cases

    Research on using cases in courses in educational psychology, teacher education, and special education has expanded so rapidly in the last 25 years that it has its own descriptor, “case method,” in electronic databases. Some of the methods used to teach with case studies identified in past research are clearly applicable in human development. This section will summarize some general strategies for analyzing case studies based on the extensive research on the use of the case method as a teaching and learning approach in education (Allen, 1995; Block, 1996; Kleinfeld, 1991; Merseth, 1991, 1994; Mostert & Kauffman, 1992; Semrau & Fitzgerald, 1995; Shulman, 1992; Sudzina, 1997; Sykes & Bird, 1993-1994; Wasserman, 1994). More specific strategies for using the cases in this book in human development courses will also be discussed.

    • Cases can be used to either illustrate or apply theories, research, or principles of development. Cases are an effective way to help deepen your understanding of theories of development. We usually have our students apply two different theories to the same case. This helps them understand how the theories emphasize different aspects of development. The case helps students understand the often abstract concepts presented by theories, such as ecological theory. In a case such as “Jaime: Crossing Cultures and Celebrating Life,” the theory reminds students to examine all of the social systems in Jaime's life, including macrosystem influences such as immigration laws and cultural differences. Each case in this book presents discussion questions that highlight one or more theories or concepts that could be applied to the case. An alternative approach is to simply generate a list of concepts and discuss how these might be applied to the case. For example, concepts that could be applied to “Frank: Confronting Change and Taking a Stand” include empathy, moral reasoning, depression, peer status, cliques, rural versus suburban communities, and parent involvement.
    • Small groups or large groups can discuss issues involved in the case and possible approaches or interventions that could be taken with the youth. For example, “Ben: Having His Way at Preschool and Home” provides a very useful framework for discussion of differences in discipline between home and school as well as building of family-school partnerships. “Nicole and Brooke: Homeschooled Fraternal Twins” can be used to discuss the pros and cons of homeschooling and issues of nature versus nurture in relation to the twins.
    • Cases can be used to develop plans for assessment, instruction, or intervention. Again, the case “Ben: Having His Way at Preschool and Home” can be used to discuss how we assess social skills in children. “Beth: Finding Her Strengths” presents a case in which questions could be raised about assessment for a learning disability. “Emily's World” presents a child with autism, and students could discuss how the sensitive instruction of teachers and active advocacy of her mother promoted high levels of development.
    • Cases can be used to prepare for field experiences by presenting scenarios that might be encountered in the field. Alternatively, cases can enrich field experiences by presenting diverse settings or issues not present in the field experience. For example, one of our colleagues used the case on Ben after her class had observed at a preschool center. It helped to identify the types of conflicts that might not be apparent after only one day of observations and provided a possible parent's perspective on a preschool program as well.
    • For some cases, you might want to role-play conversations for situations described in the case as a way of refining social and communication skills so important to teachers. For example, in “Hector: Talking Through Troubles,” a teacher talks with a student about the murder of one of his friends. As part of our discussion of helping children cope with death and loss, we have our students create a role play of the conversation that might occur.
    • Cases can be used as a means of assessment of your understanding of course content through written analyses, case competitions, exam questions, or group or team discussions. We have used our cases as the basis for essay questions that require students to integrate information across multiple areas or ages. The questions for discussion at the end of each case may be used as a basis for class discussion or as the basis for written papers or essay questions. Students might be assigned all questions as homework, or different questions may be assigned to individuals in a group in a jigsaw type of activity. Groups of students might also be assigned to present alternative analyses of a case based on different perspectives (e.g., parent versus student or teacher).

    If you have never used cases in courses, some cautionary notes are in order. For most cases, there are no simple right or wrong answers to the discussion questions presented. Also, there is no easy way to predict what will happen to the youth or what type of approach will work best. One of the major goals in using case studies is to get students to use the theories, research, and concepts to think about possible interpretations and outcomes related to the case and learn to support their interpretations with evidence from the case or from their research.

    If you have used cases in previous courses but are accustomed to short cases that emphasize a problem-based approach, you may at first be mystified by the cases in this book. While many of our cases present youth who are facing or have faced challenges in their lives, few of the cases present these challenges as the sole focus of the case. There usually is no single problem to solve in the cases; sometimes the case provides insight into how many problems have already been resolved. We encourage our students to think about the multiple issues, relationships, and events that have contributed to the past development of each child and adolescent and about what they need for healthy development in the future. This reflects our belief that developmental theories and research should help students analyze what helps or hinders the overall development of children and how one might build on the strengths and resources that these children possess.

    Benefits of Using Case Studies

    There has been extensive research on the benefits of using case studies in teaching. Most of the research on the case method has focused on the use of cases in general educational psychology courses, field experiences, or courses on learning, teaching methods, classroom management, or special education (Allen, 1995; Block, 1996; Mostert & Kauffman, 1992; Semrau & Fitzgerald, 1995; Sudzina, 1997; Sykes & Bird, 1993-1994; Wasserman, 1994). Relatively few articles have discussed the use of cases in courses on child and adolescent development (Corcoran, 1996; Mayo, 2002; McManus, 1986). However, the results of this research indicate the rich potential of case studies in providing an authentic context for considering problems that arise in working with children (Gibson, 1998; Hutchings, 1993; Kleinfeld, 1991; Merseth, 1991, 1994; Shulman, 1992; Sykes & Bird, 1993-1994; Vitz, 1990; Wasserman, 1994). We summarize this research below and provide references to it at the end of this book for persons who wish to explore the research more fully.

    The research suggests that students benefit in several important ways from the use of cases in teaching. Case methods encourage development of student skills in communication, problem solving, decision making, collaboration, and conflict resolution (Hutchings, 1993; Kleinfeld, 1991; Merseth, 1991, 1994; Shulman, 1992; Sykes & Bird, 1993-1994; Wasserman, 1994). They also provide a way of broadening student experience with diverse settings and groups that may not be immediately available to them (LaFramboise & Griffith, 1997; Merseth, 1991; Roth, 2000). Cases also provide an authentic context that students report makes learning of content and abstract information easier (Sudzina, 1997). Our colleague James Allen (1995) reports research that cases lead to more active involvement by students in learning and an increased ability to understand the perspectives of others. Levin (1995) analyzed student learning while using cases and reported that discussion of cases resulted in more multidimensional understanding of issues, reductions in judgmental attitudes, and increased ability to take both the teacher and student perspectives. All of these outcomes are clearly desirable in teaching about human development.

    We have found that our students enjoy both reading and analyzing case studies. They feel that the cases are “real” and become quite passionate in arguing for their interpretation and recommended actions. We have had students approach us a year after the course with details of the case fresh in their minds, asking us if we know what became of Ben, Elena, or Hector. It takes practice by the students and guidance from the instructor for students to develop the higher-order skills needed in case analysis. However, they leave the course with a much fuller appreciation of the value of theories and research as tools for understanding children and planning approaches to assist their development. We do suggest caution against generalizing too broadly about the lessons learned from individual life histories and cases. Not every autistic child will look like Emily and not every African American child will show the same characteristics as Keisha or Edward. However, we hope that by getting to know these children, you will develop skills that help you build a better future for all of the children that you meet.

    Chart of Cases

    Connecting across Cases

    The following questions address issues that can be examined across cases. In some instances, specific cases are suggested. Other questions are open-ended and allow you to select cases for analysis. We suggest that you use the chart preceding these questions to determine which cases would best fit the open-ended questions.

    • Keisha and Laura are two young girls with very strong social skills, while Ben seems to struggle with his social development. Compare these cases in terms of how gender, parenting, teacher's classroom management and instructional styles, school context, social values, or other factors might have influenced the children's development.
    • Teachers play significant roles in the lives of all children. Select two cases in which you think teachers used approaches that promoted a child's cognitive, social, emotional, or moral growth. Discuss why their approaches were successful with that child.
    • The larger social context often plays a critical role in development. Select two youth growing up in two different types of neighborhoods or schools. Discuss how their neighborhood or school influenced their social, emotional, moral, or cognitive development.
    • Several of the youth commented directly or indirectly on the events of the September 11 terrorist attacks or the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (i.e., Keisha, Laura, Brooke and Nicole, Beth, Frank). Select two of the youth and characterize their reactions to these events. In what ways were the reactions of the youth typical of their developmental levels? What does research suggest about ways that teachers and families should approach this issue and the issue of loss of a loved one?
    • The youth in these cases vary in their motivation and academic achievement. Select two youth who show different levels of motivation or academic achievement. Discuss the factors that might account for these differences, including consideration of age-related differences, family influences, school context, teacher-student relationships, and teacher's instructional approaches.
    • Family structures in the United States are quite varied and include single- and two-parent families, stepfamilies, and extended families. Developmentalists insist that any structure can provide a healthy environment for child development as long as the family has sufficient support and resources. Select two to three cases that have different family structures at some time in the child's life. Discuss how the families did or did not create a supportive, loving, and stimulating environment for these children.
    • Hector and Jaime are both youth whose families emigrated to the United States from Mexico to provide a better future for their children. In what ways do these youth show the influence of both U.S. and Mexican cultural values in their lives? What types of challenges did the parents and youth face due to immigration and the parents’ limited English abilities? How did the teachers of each youth show or not show cultural sensitivity to their cultural backgrounds?
    • Resiliency is the ability to thrive despite adverse situations. Elena, Hector, Talisha, and Jaime might all be considered youth who have shown an ability to rise to meet the challenges in their lives. Discuss how the cases for these youth include personal, family, or community characteristics associated with resilience.
    • Animals play a prominent role in the lives of Ben, Brooke and Nicole, Beth, and Frank. Search for research on how pets and farm animals might influence children's development, then examine how you might apply this research to the cases noted.
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    Wasserman, S. (1994). Introduction to case method teaching: A guide to the galaxy. New York: Teachers College Press.

    About the Authors

    Marguerite G. Lodico (Ed.D. and M.Ed. University of Houston, Educational Psychology, and B.A. State University of New York at Stony Brook, History/Secondary Education) is Professor of Educational Psychology at The College of Saint Rose. She has served as Acting Dean of the School of Education and Department Chair of the Department of Educational Psychology. She regularly teaches courses in child psychology, developmental psychology, and educational research. She was honored as the College's “Faculty of the Year” in 1997 and 2003.

    Katherine H. Voegtle (Ph.D. and M.A. University of Cincinnati, Cognitive Psychology, and B.S. Northwestern University, Journalism) is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at The College of Saint Rose. As a research scientist for the American Medical Association, she directed projects aimed at improving adolescent health and wrote policy papers on adolescent maltreatment and school-based sexuality education. She has coauthored several book chapters and journal articles on adolescence. She currently teaches courses in child and adolescent psychology, educational research, and educational psychology.


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