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PBSI Study Highlights Strength of BYU–Public School Partnership

16 APRIL 2010

Young children at risk for behavioral disorders can be assisted through the Strong Start curriculum, according to a study by the BYU Positive Behavior Support Initiative (PBSI). “Social and Emotional Learning in the Kindergarten Classroom: Evaluation of the Strong Start Curriculum” was authored by Thomas Kramer, a PhD student in the Counseling Psychology and Special Education Department, along with his faculty advisors Paul Caldarella and Lynnette Christensen. The article is the most recent in a series of studies examining the Strong Start curriculum, authored by Kenneth W. Merrell of the University of Oregon.

Kramer has been involved with PBSI both as an undergraduate and graduate student. He was a supporting participant on previous studies with Caldarella and Christensen, gaining the knowledge and experience needed to be principal investigator for the most recent study, which took place at a school with a high number of children identified as at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders. Under the mentorship of Caldarella and Christensen, Kramer designed the study, carried it out, and analyzed the data.

According to its publishers, Strong Start helps to “promote the social-emotional competence and resilience of children and adolescents.” One of the focuses of the study was to analyze the effects of Strong Start on children who were at-risk for internalizing disorders, which may not be manifested in outward behavior, but can have harsh effects. “Research shows that [internalizing] outcomes can be just as severe as externalizing outcomes,” Kramer stated.

Designed for children in grades K–2, the study examined behavioral differences in children after the teachers introduced the Strong Start curriculum. Trained teachers were asked to fill out a rating scale for each student six weeks before implementation of the new curriculum. Parents also filled out rating scales.

“In previous studies, the researcher taught the curriculum [being tested],” Kramer explained. The goal was to get teachers involved and excited, he continued. “This could be the greatest program in the world, but unless you get the teachers involved, nothing will happen.”

Immediately before Strong Start was introduced, the teachers repeated the rating scales, then proceeded with the ten-week curriculum sequence. Each week, the teacher would present a 40-minute lesson, with Kramer ensuring curriculum fidelity. At the end of the program the teachers filled out the rating scales again, then once more six weeks afterward.

The study found that six weeks after completion of the curriculum students were still using the skills learned. “They were doing very well,” Kramer explained. This validation of the Strong Start curriculum is encouraging for researchers and teachers, as it suggests ways to help at-risk students cope.

Caldarella, director of PBSI, explained the contribution that PBSI is making in this field. “There is not very much research on young, social-emotional at-risk children,” he stated. The researchers at PBSI are some of the few in the nation studying this area, and their research makes an important impact.

Kramer and his mentors were impressed with their interactions with the school. “It is a great example of how a school with a need was able to benefit from our study,” Christensen stated. “We came together with the school to meet the need.” The BYU–Public School Partnership joins BYU with several neighboring school districts for research, student teaching, and development.

The study will be published in the coming months in the Early Childhood Education Journal.

19 April 2010