Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Environmental and Occupational Health
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
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Background: Nevada has had consistently high rates of youth suicide in the past decade with 21.2 deaths by suicide per 100,000 population (ages 15-24), over the national rate of 14.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2019. National strategies, state agendas, and best practices in the field prioritize research on upstream strategies to prevent suicide. One such strategy is the use of social emotional learning (SEL) programs for youth to help increase and enhance protective factors against suicide, helping them to cope with negative life events. Research has identified leading outcomes of SEL programs as the improvement of attitudes, behaviors, and academic performance in students. These areas of improvement are linked with increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors for mental illness, substance abuse, and ultimately, suicide.
Methods: Secondary data analysis was conducted on a program evaluation for an 8-lesson SEL program that was implemented in 5th grade classrooms of 3 elementary schools in a rural county in Nevada during the 2016-17 school year. Quantitative data from two student self-assessments (Child & Adolescent Mindfulness Measure, Social Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales - Child) and one teacher assessment (Social Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales - Teacher) of each student was analyzed to determine program effectiveness and any differences in program outcomes between gender or racial/ethnic groups. Additionally, qualitative data was collected through lesson observations, semi-structured interviews, and small focus groups, to obtain a comprehensive picture of program implementer’s and classroom teachers’ experiences of the program as it was delivered in their schools.
Results: Paired t-tests of student assessment data (n=197) revealed significant increases in mindfulness among students in the immediate intervention group, who received the program at the beginning of the school year. Significant increases in social emotional competence scales (Self-Regulation, Social Competence, Empathy, and Responsibility) were also found for students in the delayed intervention group, who received the program in the Spring of 2017. Minimal, non-significant differences were found when comparing racial/ethnic and gender groups for each of the assessment tools. Observation, interview, and focus group data revealed the program was not implemented with fidelity to its intended structure. Both program implementers and classroom teachers agreed that many adjustments would need to be made for this, or similar, programs in order for the implementation to be feasible and appropriate in a classroom setting. While much of the program content was deemed helpful and important for students to learn, it was agreed that the delivery should be more flexible and better tailored to the age, culture, and community environment of the students receiving the program.
Discussion: Program effectiveness cannot be fully and accurately assessed without first ensuring full fidelity of program implementation. Results of this analysis and evaluation revealed that buy-in from all stakeholders - including teachers, program facilitators, school administrators, students, and families - is essential to successful program implementation and reliable data collection. Recommendations are provided for consideration during future implementation efforts. Ultimately, this SEL program is an innovative strategy for bringing social emotional learning into the classroom; with continued improvement, implementation, and evaluation, it may prove to be an effective, universal upstream strategy for suicide prevention in schools.
Mental health; Program evaluation; Resilience; Social emotional learning; Suicide prevention; Upstream programs
Mental and Social Health | Public Health | Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Knight, Maria Amaris, "Social Emotional Learning as a Universal Upstream Approach to Youth Suicide Prevention: A Secondary Data Analysis of a Prevention Program Evaluation" (2021). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 4161.
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