Federal, state, and local emphasis on academic testing has resulted in less time and resources for school personnel to promote a positive school climate, support prosocial development and prevent violence in K-12 schools. Rather than viewing students as problems to be fixed, we believe students are the solution to improve school climate.

So, we developed research-based, youth character development programs. Each program builds on the prior program to create a school climate and culture shift. 


How can intentional kindness change school climate and culture? 

Multiple moments per day, students are presented with moments to help, harm or do nothing.  

Our school-based program teaches and empowers students to help in three ways:

  1. perform kindness

  2. receive kindness

  3. recognize kindness with a wristband 

In Fall 2018, select schools will pilot a mobile app to track kindness from student to student.  

How can a mobile app focused on kindness incentivize good behavior at school? 

For years, social and behavioral scientists have shown how goal setting, social attention and rewards increase motivation for behavior. In 2008, our first idea was simple: Recognize hokies with a wristband for being kind on campus! 

Now a decade later, this simple research-based idea combined with mobile technology could literally change the world. How would our schools and communities change if more people were recognized for being kind?  Lets find out by recognizing every single act of kindness and watching it spread. 


Can weekly character challenges spread caring in schools?

For decades, scientific fields have determined the processes and outcomes for faciliating healthy student development. In education and positive psychology, social-emotional learning skills and character development were targeted. In developmental psychology, an entire framework of positive youth development (PYD) outlines the essential ingredients for healthy student development: competence, confidence, character, caring, contribution, and connection. The contextual behavioral sciences have focused on the rewards and recognition that follow behavior. 

Using an experiential learning model, the character strengths program uses 5 steps to encourage reflection and personal character growth:

  1. experience
  2. share
  3. process
  4. generalize
  5. apply

Middle School Curriculum

In this 6-week experiential program, middle school students are taught character strengths to develop new social-emotional competencies and behavioral skills to perform, receive and recognize kindness more often and effectively.  The program is based on our CSBP model, Character Strength x Behavioral Practice, which focuses on teaching understanding of character strengths and focuses on behavioral practice of each strength. Each lessons has four key components to enhance student learning.  

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1.     Lesson Recap: Students review previous lesson’s character strength to 1) connect the current week’s character strength to previous week's character strength, and 2) reinforce learning.

2.     Activity: Students engage in the current week’s character strength by participating in an activity to facilitate experiential learning. 

3.     Discussion & Reflection: Students are lead through discussion and reflection questions to facilitate meaning-making of the activity and the character strength. 

4.    Caring Challenges: Students develop caring challenges to practice the week’s character strength. Caring Challenges facilitate students’ self-confidence to perform prosocial behaviors. 

Ideally, prosocial identity development occurs as students perform weekly caring challenges with the support and guidance of a college student or high school student facilitator/ mentor. By building positive assets and increasing the recognition of caring, aggression becomes less functional and a cultural norm of helping emerges.

High School Program

Students learn character strengths in the context of their role as a friend, leader, follower, and a mentor.  

Can teams of students solve school problems together? 

“Adults in general, but particularly those in schools and community-based organizations, have historically viewed youth from two primary perspectives as objects that need to be controlled because youth are incapable of knowing what is best for them, and as recipients, as they are really “adults in waiting” and in need of being socialized and educated accordingly. A third perspective… sees youth as partners with adults… capable of making significant and lasting contributions now” (Delgado, 2006, p. 3).

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Youth-led prevention (YLP) programming is based on this third perspective of youth as partners and change agents. Raffle and Leach integrated the Youth Empowerment Conceptual Framework (YECF) and Strategic Prevention Framework to guide youth-led programming in schools and communities.  Although Youth-Led Prevention is an evidence-based practice, there has yet to be a “youth-led program” evaluated and submitted to SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).  

We intend to develop the first manualized youth-led program in schools based on the YECF, SAMHSA’s SPF planning process, and the healthy adolescent development model.

Our team-based, prosocial problem-solving program empowers high school students to develop peer-led initiatives and campaigns for school climate and culture change.  Many programs marketed as "youth leadership" programs do not reflect the definition of leadership -- to use influence to achieve team or organizational goals. We are developing the next generation of leaders who value collaborative problem solving to address the pressing issues facing their schools.

Program Model

Students experience a contextualized curriculum based on the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) by completing activities and discussions with their peers during each of the following five stages:

strategic prevention framework with youth
  1. assess
  2. plan
  3. capacity
  4. implement
  5. evaluate.  


The program is the first school-based youth leadership program to assess and adapt YLP programming based on an individual's psychological preference toward prevention or prevention thinking. 


High School Program

Prevention specialists and educators, who take on the role of an Adult Ally, support our Kevin R. Lawall College Fellows in guiding students as they develop their own kindness campaigns or initiatives. 

Can students generate transparent research on their school climate and create change? 

Annually, 288,000 students enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology across 8,478 US high schools. The AP Psychology course curriculum includes lecture, activities, and interactive software to prepare students for the culminating AP exam, but it does not offer a problem or project-based learning method for students to develop research questions nor apply psychological science to their own lives and school problems.  Why don't students test their own psychological theories and explore concepts related to character, mental health, dishonesty, and social media?

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Additionally, 0 of the 14 AP Psychology course areas focus on a pressing concern in psychology: the need for open, reproducible and transparent research.  In a 2015 publication in Science, psychological researchers tried to reproduce the results of 100 prior psychological experiments; only 39% of the studies were reproducible.  The field of psychology is at the cross-roads – continue to produce poor-quality experiments and potentially risk losing the public trust OR train the next generation of scientists to conduct experiments ethically and with transparency. 

With support from the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) of UC-Berkeley (bitss.org), the Cor Foundation developed a youth-led research program using experiential and project-based learning methods for students to conduct psychological studies on their school climate.  AP Psychology high school students work in teams to generate research questions, test hypotheses, and analyze their own data using  research transparent practices.


    Pilot Course at Yorktown High School (Arlington, VA)

    This Psychology of Psychological Research was piloted with 125 Yorktown High School (YHS) students in 5 sections of AP Psychology.  In teams, they conducted correlational studies using transparent practices from May 14 to June 8.  This course taught students how to use the scientific method to answer psychological research questions on character, (dis)honesty, school climate, mental health, and technology/social media. 

    Students conducted a psychological research study based on the research workflow model developed by the Center for Open Science (cos.io):

    open science framework research workflow
    1. Search and discover research topics of interest
    2. Develop an idea
    3. Design a study using a correlational design or social network analysis
    4. Acquire materials
    5. Collect data using google forms
    6. Store data on a public repository
    7. Analyze data using an open-source software, JASP (jasp-stats.org)
    8. Interpret findings
    9. Develop a research poster
    10. Present a research poster at a psychology research fair. 

    Research Posters

    On Step 9, students developed their own research poster. For Step 10, students presented their posters at a psychological research fair to "judges" who were psychologists, educators and community members. One team of students asked the research question: How does school-related stress impact relationship quality and self-esteem? 

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    Promoting Research Transparency

    Research studies were conducted ethically with transparency and reproducibility. These practices were built into the course design. However, some transparent practices were optional. Badges were used as incentives for researchers to engage in transparent research practices, such as pre-registration of a study along with sharing of data and materials in a public repository/website (osf.io). 


    Want to create research-based change with us?

    Are you a university professor, a post-doc, a graduate student, or high school AP psychology who is interested in delivering this course in May 2019? Not sure yet? Email us and we can work with you!

    Can college students and community members help save their local schools? 

    Administrators, teachers and support staff are often overworked with limited time and resources to implement research-informed and evidence-based programming. Our programs build school and community capacity by training adult allies and college Fellows as implementers. 



    community-based prevention specialists or a school-based adult (ie., teacher, social worker, counselor) who provides structure and support to a team of students




    undergraduate or graduate students in an education or social science field (e.g., psychology, human development) who provides training, assistance and mentorship to a team of students