UCSB researchers earned a $1.2 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health to create a preschool biology curriculum for low-income Latino children.

Laura Romo, associate professor in the department of education and Director of the Chicano Studies Institute, acted as the principal investigator into research and will be working with education professor Yukari Okamoto and associate professors of education Julie Bianchini and Jin Sook Lee to launch the curriculum, which will focus on illness prevention and nutrition.

According to Romo, the program seeks to inform young children about the science behind germs, viruses, hygiene and food choices.

“When young children are told to wash their hands, adults tend to leave out the how and why,” Romo said in the release. “Our curriculum will provide children with a rudimentary conceptual understanding of germ biology as a rationale. This type of information can help children remember what they should do to prevent illness and promote better hygiene. Similarly, a biological reason related to how food helps people grow or stay healthy may foster compliance with eating healthy things, such as vegetables.”

Romo said the project will also strive to improve the children’s overall learning experience by teaching them how to scientifically examine issues using question, explanation and prediction-making.

“With the project, we’re also trying to develop information-seeking and explanatory discourse skills so when the preschool children get to kindergarten, they’re comparable to their peers,” Romo said in a press release.

The curriculum also highlights linguistic support in elementary education by focusing on four and five-year old Latino children whose first language is Spanish but are currently learning English. Teachers from the Santa Barbara Head Start Program and the Franklin Children’s Center will help researchers outline curriculum details and materials for the five-year study.