Dr. Desiree W. Murray, PhD, has received a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)1 to adapt a mindfulness-based social-emotional learning program, called Be CALM (Cool, Attentive, Logical, and Mature), for middle school counselors to help build resilience among students experiencing high levels of stress.
Stress has dramatically increased among adolescents in the last ten years. The COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted adolescents’ lives and contributed to unprecedented rates of depression, anxiety, and other emotional and behavioral difficulties. Youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and with minoritized identities are least likely to receive supports, as are youth living in rural settings Therefore, specific attention is needed to make supports for these populations accessible, such as through schools. School counselors are critical service providers, with potential to build resilience in hundreds of students each year who may not otherwise receive support.
Researchers have found that mindfulness, intentionally focusing attention on one’s emotions and thoughts in the present moment and accepting them without judgment, is a promising tool to combat adolescent stress. Be CALM is a universal classroom-based program developed by Murray and colleague Rachel Mills-Brantley in 2018. This study aims to adapt Be CALM for school counselors to help middle schoolers with high levels of stress in small groups.
“This adaptation of Be CALM is really focusing on increasing middle school counselors’ to students with diverse identities and their capacity to utilize mindfulness-based strategies,” said Dr. Murray, the study’s principal investigator. Dr. Murray is a clinical psychologist and senior research scientist at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP). Key collaborators include Drs. Jill Hamm and Robert Martinez in the UNC School of Education.
Be CALM is a program that trains secondary school teachers to deliver a 16-lesson curriculum to help students develop skills in the areas of emotion regulation, mindful communication, positive identity development, conflict resolution, and goal setting through mindfulness-based strategies. Murray plans to develop and pilot test the Be CALM program for use by school counselors in racially and ethnically diverse, rural middle schools in central North Carolina.
In Year 1, researchers will work with students to learn how they experience stress and gather feedback from school counselors using focus groups and surveys. In Year 2, the research group will begin field testing at three middle schools. In this stage, Murray will gather feedback from students and counselors to adapt Be CALM for counselors. In Year 3, the research team will pilot Be CALM for counselors in 10 additional rural NC schools in a small randomized controlled trial.
“One of the essential and exciting opportunities of our study is to include focus groups with school counselors and students. This is particularly valuable because it allows us to explore and better understand the student stress experiences and coping strategies from multi-levels and through the lens of mindfulness practices.” said Dr. Maihan Vu, DrPH, MPH who will lead qualitative data collection and analysis. Dr. Vu is Director of Formative Research and Director of the Qualitative Research Unit at HPDP.
At the end of the study, the research team plans to provide middle school counselors with resources (e.g., a student workbook, counselor manual) to continue implementing Be CALM. The team hopes the study results will enable other school counselors and researchers to adopt Be CALM across the country.
Dr. Desiree W. Murray, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and senior research scientist at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention whose research focuses on promoting positive youth development, particularly for those living in adversity, by creating more supportive home, school, and community environments. She is also an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education.
Dr. Maihan Vu, DrPH, MPH is Director of Formative Research and Director of the Qualitative Research Unit at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She is also an adjunct assistant professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a qualitative research specialist for the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
1 IES will finance 100% of the project’s total costs funded by Federal money. The total amount of Federal funds granted is $2 million. The project will receive $0 (0% of total funding) from other sources.