A new curriculum designed by the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred), Schools for Hope, was created based on research by The Ohio State University that suggests hope is a teachable skill — a vitally important aptitude because hopelessness is the leading symptom of depression and predictor of suicide.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, one out of nine children self-reported a suicide attempt before graduating high school with 40 percent of those children in grade school. That same study found that suicide attempt rates rose steeply at age 12 — around sixth grade — and peaked two to three years later. As a result, iFred designed Schools for Hope specifically to equip children with mental health tools before reaching middle school. The organization maintains a goal of expanding to additional age groups following more testing and development.
Schools for Hope is a research-based curriculum made up of ten core lessons and additional workshops on Heroes for Hope, Movies for Hope and Artwork for Hope. The program educates students on the importance of emotional health and well-being, how to get their brain into a hopeful state, meditation and deep breathing techniques. It teaches children how to define hope, explore and define the meaning of “success,” and practice emotional self-regulation techniques. In addition, Schools for Hope incorporates lessons about the biology of the brain and how students can connect their passion and purpose in life.
More and more states are beginning to recognize the need for social and emotional learning (SEL) to complement traditional school curriculums. The state of Illinois defines social and emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need” to:
- Recognize and manage their emotions.
- Demonstrate caring and concern for others.
- Establish positive relationships.
- Make responsible decisions.
- Handle challenging situations constructively.
The state outlines the positive outcomes that can result when quality SEL instruction allow students to “process, integrate and selectively apply SEL skills in developmentally, contextually and culturally appropriate ways in conjunction with a safe, caring, participatory and responsive school climate.” These include the promotion of mental wellness; prevention of mental health issues; school connectedness; reduction in student absenteeism; reduction in suspension; adoption, implementation and institutionalization of new practices; and improved academic outcomes.
The School for Hope lessons are designed to meet each standard and benchmark for late elementary students. The three main goals of the program are:
- To develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
- To use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
- To demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.
iFred launched Schools for Hope in fall 2014 in two Chicago-area school districts (Woodland Intermediate School in Gurnee, Ill., and Oakland School in Antioch, Ill.) with the goal of expanding nationally and internationally. The program is expanding to South America and Nepal this year, and is available for translation and in cobranded partnerships with other nonprofits interested in teaching the curriculum to their members.
Schools for Hope is a free program available to any interested school, community group, after-school program or nonprofit. It comes with comprehensive instructions that make it easily self-led, so the costs associated with implementation are low.
For interest in testing or implementing the fifth grade curriculum, please email Schools for Hope at [email protected] or visit the website to download the free lesson plans. The site also includes tools and support items for teachers and educators, as well as research on the program and information on how the curriculum fits with current social and emotional learning standards mandated in several states.