Start from a Classroom, End in a Community 

Ironically, as a pre-med student, I was constantly intimidated by research. The lab work, the growth opportunities, and the atmosphere of a lab consisted of nothing but horror-stricken stories from all my peers. I believed, and I still do, that research in a field that is interesting to you is more important than research that looks “interesting” on your application. For this exact reason, I used the Community Research Fellowship (CRF) to find the perfect study for me, that allowed me, as an individual, to feel the impact that I was making in my community. 

Before I begin talking about myself and my research, I want all my readers to enter the time-machine to the time we all took a standardized test- SATs, MCAT, PSSAs, etc. What do you feel? Panic, perspiration, and palpitations. To many students across the country, this is a universal feeling, brought upon by a lack of preparation or a lack of confidence. However, there still exists a large number of students, who also experience this anxiety due to a lack of opportunities given to succeed in such examinations. Predominantly, these kids belong to the minority category of being disabled, indigenous, poor socioeconomically, etc. Looking at one such group are the African Americans. A 2015 study of The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called “the nation’s report card”, showed that “in reading and math, 43 percent of White 8th graders scored Proficient or above, compared to 13 percent of African Americans” (Hardy 2015). This wide and persistent gap among standardized scores is an effect of the opportunity gap, a pressing issue, that has a lifelong impact on students and their families, and is produced by the lack of equal and equitable opportunities for all. 

Hi, I’m Anannya Pushkarna, and my goal is to bridge this gap. I’m a rising senior majoring in biological sciences, and minoring in legal studies and chemistry. My passion towards healthcare has been solely to help our community and to advocate for our patients, and alongside the Office of Child Development, my goals are one step closer. I’m currently part of The Pittsburgh Study 3Rs- Reading, Racial Equity, and Relationships- that focuses on advancing racial equity by increasing teachers’ skills in literacy instructions through Professional Development content and voluntary Professional Learning Communities where teachers receive in-depth coaching and discussion in smaller groups. The study provides support to teachers by increasing their knowledge on reading instruction through a racial equity lens. Mentored by Dr. Amanda Cross and senior researcher Abby Chen, my role throughout this project has been to analyze data on how literacy instructions can change the way teachers think, and further implement those changes in classrooms. 

I used SPSS, a statistical analysis software, to analyze, compare, and make conclusions about data which focused on teachers’ responses in a survey conducted pre (2021) and post (2022) study. We used t-tests to investigate whether pre-post growth on the scales studied (Racial Humility, Systemic Racism, Colorblind Beliefs, Race Talk Frequency, and Race Talk Comfort) differed by participant characteristics (age, education level, and race). We found that teachers with higher educational attainment demonstrated larger growth on the Race Talk Comfort scale (p<0.05, see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Comparing teachers’ educational background vs. Mean score change in Race Talk Comfort

P-value= 0.040
r (pearson correlation)= 0.52
Educational BackgroundMean Change in ScoreN
Bachelor’s Degree-0.117
Master’s Degree 0.229
Results indicate that teachers’ with a Master’s degree reported larger increases on a scale measuring comfort engaging in talks about race than teachers without master’s degrees.

Such results pave the way in understanding how professional development for teachers, especially those that integrate racially affirming knowledge and conversations, can influence teachers’ understanding of equitable literacy environments, which can further be translated into providing egalitarian opportunities for all inside and outside of classrooms. Working alongside 6 schools and providing over 424 high quality, racially affirming picture books to teachers, our research combines diversity, equity, and advocacy into one. The 3R’s has given me the opportunity to increase my understanding of research methods at grassroot levels, that I will continue to learn with my future collaborations in this study, and continue to implement them within the systems of healthcare.

Healthcare is a basic universal right, whose denial still seems to be used as a weapon of choice. As a legal studies minor, I tend to strengthen my advocacy skills by knowing the law and understanding where and how it is lacking. These two streams of education are a constant reminder as to why I have chosen medicine as an advocacy tool for justice and equity among our community. We use various ways to tackle issues in the world, and I’ve chosen healthcare. A field like this that fosters people of all backgrounds requires that the youngest of all children also contribute, recognize, and learn about the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion to be able to advocate for their own rights. While my interest in this study is catered towards a humanistic approach, rather than scientific, that may seem non-traditional for an aspiring medical student. However, I’m here to show that a community is built on values that it acquires from each and every discipline of work; whether it be medicine, education, or social services, our community is built on building blocks of foundations from each of these disciplines. To be able to fight for your right, is literacy, and it begins with this project that implements new ways to ensure diversity, equality and equity in our community. A well-thought out approach that starts from our classrooms. 


Hardy, D. (2015, November 24). How race and class relate to standardized tests. Chalkbeat Philadelphia; Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Office of Child Development. (2023b). 2022-23 Books for Change Book List and The Pittsburgh Study 3Rs Logo [Web image]

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