Through my academic work at Brandeis, I have learned that curing psychopathologies is rather difficult. Even after recovery, patients might still relapse. Therefore, early intervention and support on social-emotional learning are important.
People don’t just have mental disorders all of a sudden. They might start with a small concern or bother and then it gradually progresses into an affliction. With professional support, patients can better handle those concerns and keep them from growing into a blaze, which can prevent further difficulties in the future.
Despite this information, we rarely talk about early intervention in the classroom. Therefore, before my internship this summer, early intervention was only a vague concept to me. I did not really know how it is developed and carried out. To me, it seemed like a magic stick and somehow it was developed by some professionals to save children from mental distress in their futures. That is until recently, when I took over the role as a social-emotional learning curriculum developer at PEAR (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) for early intervention, which exposed me to how complex the process is.
The past few weeks of my time at PEAR have been a mixture of fun and struggle. In the first couple days, I received training on the Clover Social-Emotional Development Model and pretended we were middle-school kids as we tried out the activities and games in the curriculum manuals. It was a lot of fun. But as I started to do the actual work to further develop other manuals for this group of curricula, I realized that I underestimated the hard work required to develop such a fun and audience-specific curriculum for the early intervention of mental disorders.
I have sat at the desk all day for weeks conducting literature reviews, and looking for evidence provided by researchers to figure out what mechanisms and practices would be effective to support different populations of students at early adolescence with different needs for mental support. At times, I felt my research findings were never enough and that many research findings were inconsistent. Furthermore, deciding which practices should be implemented in the curriculum manual to guarantee effectiveness has not been an easy task, beyond also making the curriculum kid-friendly and engaging.
Fortunately, my colleagues and supervisors are very supportive. Every week, we brainstorm potential activities for the curriculum based on the research finding. I also carry out field test experiential of those activities to keep refining the curriculum manuals according to feedback. Even though I am working on intervention of mental health burdens, my focuses are not limited to dimensions that a certain population need support on. Kids are very complex. Kids who need mental health support do not just have a combination of several symptoms. In order to help kids balance among different dimensions of abilities, we need to take both strengths and weakness into account. Even though this process contains a lot of twists, turns and frustrations, I am glad that I am working on intervention curriculum that will make a direct impact on children, especially those who are in low-income communities.