A note from Stephen Leff, PhD: Today, we are pleased to feature a blog post by Ann Perepezko, LSW, a school intervention coach with the Center for Violence Prevention’s bullying prevention programs.
Friend to Friend (F2F) is a school-based intervention program designed to help 4th and 5th grade girls decrease their relational and physical aggression and improve problem-solving, anger management, and conflict resolution skills. The curriculum for the intervention is a combination of 16 counselor-led small group sessions, and 8 teacher-led classroom lessons, where girls in the small groups learn to be pro-social leaders among their peers.
As one of the School Intervention Coaches for F2F, I train counselors and teachers to run the intervention and provide ongoing coaching and support. Last year, our team partnered with 10 new schools, half of which received F2F. The remaining schools were in our professional development condition, for which we created workshops for parents and professional development sessions for school staff. For the 2020-2021 school year we anticipated recruiting an additional 10 schools for Cohort 2 and continuing our work with Cohort 1 with reduced coaching.
However, as with most other community-based programs, COVID-19 changed our plans.
Rethinking Data Collection
As schools began closing in the spring and school staff scrambled to bring learning online, our team worked diligently to determine how to finish F2F. We focused on wrapping things up with the small groups and stopped the classroom component altogether. Through these experiences, we caught a glimpse of the challenges digital learning poses to students and schools in the School District of Philadelphia. School staff worked tirelessly to distribute laptops, reach out to families, and engage students, but despite that effort, attendance was lacking.
It was clear that families and students were dealing with significant challenges and that adjustments needed to be made to our program in order for digital learning and data collection to be effective. As we begin a new year of F2F for the 2020-2021 school year, we have pared down our student questionnaires, prioritizing certain measures to reduce overall duration. We plan to run the questionnaires, with the help of the school staff, through Google Meet.
Redesigning the Curriculum
Over the summer, our team researched digital learning platforms and attended virtual workshops to improve our knowledge of existing online programs. We evaluated digital tools to identify which ones met F2F’s needs, striving to make this version of the program as engaging as it was in person.
One major challenge to bringing the full program online was our use of role plays. This activity allows students to practice the new strategies they learn and was well liked by previous F2F participants. In one role play, girls demonstrate a common conflict: a student being excluded from a lunch table.
During the in-person session, students were able to act out this scenario and gain perspective on the excluded student’s feelings. The challenge with performing this scenario online is that you can’t see the students interact with each other. Our solution was to introduce cartoon videos of relevant situations with acting opportunities for students to demonstrate how they would respond at strategic points. In the lunch table role play, students show the facial expressions they would have as the excluded student and describe what they would be thinking and feeling.
In addition to these cartoon videos, we digitized other aspects of F2F. We created online versions of journals, workbooks and other, normally in-person activities. Our use of programs like Google Jamboard give students an opportunity to interact on a digital white board, posting answers with sticky notes, drawing pictures and solving puzzles. We are hopeful that our incorporation of these fun activities will improve student participation, despite the remote participation of their peers and teachers.
We also created a digital version of our facilitator manual with cues for when to navigate between different browser tabs and tutorials for how to use various digital tools. We ran these ideas by our Cohort 1 school partners and received positive feedback on the amount of engaging activities we included. We are eager to implement this version of our program and continue to learn with and from our school partners during this challenging time.
Stay tuned for a future blog on how partnering, coaching and training have changed within F2F during COVID-19.
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