Leaving friends behind to move to a new city.
Dealing with a relationship that ends.
Watching as classmates or relatives are victimized by violence.
Young people are confronted with numerous situations that challenge their ability to succeed both academically and in their personal lives. Polo DeCano, a PhD student in school psychology at the University of Washington College of Education, has dedicated himself to helping students stay strong in the face of stressors that threaten to thwart their goals.
One way he’s doing that is by teaching a class to UW undergraduates that focuses on resilience and strengthening the skills and habits that will help students cope with challenging situations.
“With change and transition, there are typically high levels of stress. Stress can undermine our effectiveness as human beings, our performance in the classroom, and for those who compete on the field,” DeCano said.
DeCano and former UW faculty member Clayton Cook, and now executive member of the School Mental Health Assessment, Research, & Training (SMART) Center, developed the resilience curriculum. Designed to support and strengthen resilience, the course was first offered in tandem with a sport performance course with an emphasis on student-athletes. Its reach has since broadened, and is being offered through the College of Education to all UW undergraduates, including aspiring and current early educators in the Early Childhood and Family Studies program.
“All the lessons in the class feed into establishing a sense of purpose, developing healthy attachments and connections with others, and experiencing positive emotions,” DeCano said. “We do that through APT Reasoning, Resources and Routines. Having a roadmap allows the students to have a reference when things get stressful.”
APT is a resilience framework DeCano developed that stands for "Adapt, Persevere, Thrive." It's a mantra for students to draw on when faced with adversity.
DeCano also serves as an instructor in the College’s Center for Leadership in Athletics and said his education in the school psychology program at the College has helped him perceive the social-emotional issues students face holistically.
“The school psychology program introduced and shaped my lens for looking at how to support young people at the systems level,” he said. “Looking at the individual is not sufficient. Rather we [must] look at the classroom, the interaction with the teacher, we look at the community. One of the benefits of that [systems] lens is it helps us develop interventions that address the collective environment.”
DeCano said there is qualitative feedback pointing to positive benefits of the course so far. Now, he aims to collect more quantitative data and scale the resilience curricula to all students at the UW and beyond.
“The work is important because individuals are going to encounter stressors and depending on the intensity and amount of those stressors, it can derail people from achieving their aspirations and their best selves,” DeCano said. “How I would like to go beyond the University of Washington is by providing resilience curriculum at all levels of education. Having some developmental curricula or way to expose young people to resilience skills would be my ideal outcome, ultimately to support the mental health and wellness of everybody.”
In DeCano's mind, he sees a world where young people are empowered to control their destinies. Where everyone develops the skills to adapt, persevere and thrive in the face of adversity to be their best selves.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications