2020 News Stories

USF School Psychology Program joins national initiative to bring free social emotional learning resources to parents, educators

ChooSELovetothrive Campaign Image

A screenshot of one of the resources developed for the ChooSELove to Thrive series.

TAMPA, Fla. (April 14, 2020) — Faculty and graduate students in USF’s School Psychology Program have joined a collaboration of nonprofit organizations to launch the "ChooSELove To Thrive" series, a campaign that provides parents and educators with social emotional learning (SEL) strategies for supporting students and families through the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The series, developed in partnership with the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, the Santoro Educational Lifeskills Foundation (SELF) and the School Mental Health Collaborative housed at the USF College of Education, includes a “daily action” that promotes SEL supports for children and families. The campaign’s resources are delivered free of charge through email, social media and text messages for individuals who sign-up online.

The project was started in response to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to help families across the country navigate the rising mental health challenges associated with the disruption to daily lives and routines. Dr. Nathaniel von der Embse, an associate professor in USF’s School Psychology program who is overseeing the ChooSELove To Thrive project, said because of COVID-19, bringing mental health prevention and intervention strategies to those who need it most is important now more than ever.

Nathaniel von der Embse, PhD

Nathaniel von der Embse, PhD

“Normally we expect about 20 percent of kids to experience a significant mental or behavioral health problem,” Dr. von der Embse said. “COVID-19 has exacerbated this situation, and now we have three or four times as many kids with challenges, but there is no real increase in supports provided.”

After noticing his 8-year-old son struggling with the emotional impact of learning from home, Dr. von der Embse reached out to the Choose Love Movement and SELF to brainstorm how the two organizations could partner with USF in developing evidence-based resources to help parents like himself but who may not have a background in school psychology.

“I think parents and families are already overwhelmed, and groups producing content that lives on their websites and is not distributed in parent-friendly ways cannot be effective,” he said.

While there are many SEL supports and mental health resources being provided by various organizations, Dr. von der Embse said what’s missing are evidence-based resources that can be delivered daily and are realistic for parents to complete. Created by USF graduate students under Dr. von der Embse’s direction, the free resources developed as part of the ChooSELove To Thrive project help address this need.

“Our team of faculty and graduate students are utilizing our skills in evidence-based mental health services, advances in positive psychology and best practices in professional development to reach a wide audience,” he said. “We are also using our evaluation and research skills to utilize data to quickly iterate and refine the messaging to reach a broad audience, conduct teacher and parent focus groups on what content is most usable to them and develop responsive assessment to inform program evaluation.”  

The project team plans to produce daily tips and supports for parents and children for the next few months. The long-term goal of the partnership, Dr. von der Embse said, is for the team to develop online SEL modules that can be used by educators in both online and in-person environments, free of charge. 

"I hope people are able to get some ways to feel in control right now,” said Alexis Sanchez, a USF doctoral student who serves on the team developing the project. “With everything going on with COVID-19 and all the uncertainties, we've all been trying to just stay indoors and stay safe without any direction on what to do after that. People are unable to access health and mental health services as readily as they were able to. So, this project aims to bring some help home. Everybody can benefit from some social-emotional tips in their pocket, whether there's a global health crisis or not."

Scarlett Lewis, founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, said the collaboration with USF and SELF is an extension of her organization’s work in providing these essential life skills and tools at no cost for schools, homes and communities across the country.

“COVID-19 has taken us all out of our comfort zones and the need for social and emotional intelligence for children and their parents is paramount now,” Lewis said. “Offering these simple, daily tips and practices facilitates connection, emotional management and resilience, and is even more necessary in this brave new world.”

The ChooSELove To Thrive series is available free of charge to parents and educators who are looking for evidence-based resources to support the social emotional learning of their children and families. To learn more, visit the Choose Love Foundation’s website and sign-up to receive the campaign’s daily emails.