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School of Nursing professor wins Phase 1 of Word Gap Challenge

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Ashley Darcy Mahoney, PhD, NNP-BC, assistant professor at Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, along with colleagues from Florida International University and Columbia University are the Phase 1 winners of the Bridging the Word Gap Challenge. The challenge awards up to $300,000 in prizes to support innovative solutions that can help promote early-language development among children from low-income families in the U.S. 

Darcy Mahoney and colleagues are developing a mobile app called Hablame Bebe’ that promotes Spanish-English bilingualism and reduces the word gap for Hispanic children. As Phase 1 winners the team received a cash prize of $10,000 towards their project.

"Our message is simple and universal," explains Darcy Mahoney. "Talk with your baby. It matters because 85 percent of all neurons are developed by age three. By simply including your baby in every-day conversations and talking to them about everything, you can drastically improve their chances of academic success. The more words that they hear as a baby, the smarter they become, and the better prepared they will be for reading by the end of third grade."

Darcy Mahoney has dedicated her career to infant health, specifically high-risk infants' developmental outcomes. Her research seeks to improve early-childhood outcomes for these infants, most recently through language interventions. Her current work also includes spearheading a collaborative effort funded by the United Way of Greater Atlanta, called Talk With Me Baby that targets parents and nurses to prevent language delays, especially among at-risk children, by coaching parents to talk more to their infants.

The Phase 1 winners of the challenge will now create prototypes of their ideas, or implement the proposed innovation to their existing intervention and test its effectiveness. Submission will be judged to determine Phase 2 winners who will then move on to the third and final phase of the challenge.

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