Graduate Researcher: Tara Powell

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the impact of the Journey of Hope curriculum on reducing post-trauma symptoms and building resilience through teaching positive coping skills to children between the ages of 9-12 who have experienced a natural disaster in Alabama.  The overall goal of the research is to add to the evidence obtained in the pilot study Journey of Hope (JOH) Curriculum:  Building Children’s and Communities’ Resilienceconducted in New Orleans by the University of Victoria’s International Institute for Child Rights and Development in 2009.

This evaluation project will evaluate the use of this culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate psychosocial intervention with youth in elementary and middle schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a city devasted by tornadoes in Spring 2011. UT researchers will conduct an outcome evaluation of the JOH psychosocial intervention, which is being implemented by psychologists and mental health staff hired through the non-profit agency, Save the Children.

The JOH curriculum is an eight session program that is being delivered to small groups of elementary and middle school children, ages 9-12, over a four week period in areas that have been impacted by the recent natural disaster in Alabama.  Each group contains between six and ten youth and two facilitators.

Each session follows a similar routine to create a safe place and promote normalcy, and utilizes developmentally appropriate learning strategies.  These strategies include: (1) Books and dialogue to introduce knowledge, reinforce messages and promote the development of children’s literacy and critical thinking skills, (2) Cooperative games to encourage teamwork, social skills and awareness of stressors in a non-competitive manner, (3) Art, music, dance and/or movement togive children an opportunity to learn through alternative methods and to provide a creative outlet for expression (Blanchett & Helms, 2009).  Each session focuses on different topics including safety, fear, anxiety, sadness, anger and aggression, bullying, and self-esteem.  Each small group of youth will receive the program over the course of four weeks, meeting twice a week for 60 minutes each session.  Each facilitator and co-facilitator will be a mental health professional.

The critical evaluation question is:  “Does the JOH psychosocial curriculum impact the student’s overall well-being and help them cope with anxiety and stress they may have experienced from the tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama?”  The primary outcome of interest will be the overall well-being in children aged 8-12 who participate in the program.  By examining the effectiveness of Save the Children’s “Journey of Hope” curriculum, this study will enhance the evidence base for the program for children affected by a natural disaster.