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IES Grant

Title: Enhancing the Applicability of an Evidence-Based Intervention to Reduce Social Anxiety and Improve Educational Outcomes in Black American Students in Urban Public High Schools
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Masia, Carrie Awardee: Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc.
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (08/01/2020 - 07/31/2023) Award Amount: $1,399,978
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A200013

Purpose: In this project, the researchers will adapt Skills for Academic and Social Success (SASS), a school-based, group cognitive-behavioral intervention for students with social anxiety. Social anxiety is a debilitating fear that can arise in social situations (such as working with others) or while performing activities (speaking up in class). For a student with social anxiety, school settings can be particularly difficult, and he or she may be prone to increased school absences, lower academic performance, or school dropout. For Black youth, social anxiety may be particularly detrimental due to racial discrimination, which they may have internalized and which may influence their own beliefs about themselves, their abilities, and their value. The researchers will revise SASS to better address the needs of Black high school students by improving its contextual and cultural relevance and its feasibility within school contexts.

Project Activities: Using an iterative design process, the researchers will develop and implement a culturally sensitive, school-based intervention for social anxiety in Black adolescents. This intervention will include procedures for identifying students who might benefit and training school personnel to implement intervention. After completing the intervention development, the researchers will collect initial data to estimate the intervention’s promise and cost of implementation.

Products: This project will develop a full curriculum for SASS, initial evidence of its impact on student outcomes, information about the cost of implementing the intervention, and peer-reviewed publications, presentations, and additional dissemination products that reach education stakeholders such as practitioners and policymakers.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in three urban high schools in New Jersey.

Sample: About 67 students and caregivers will participate in development phases and 48 in the controlled pilot study. The 3 schools have 50 school health-related professionals. Fourteen professionals will participate in intervention development and 12 in the final pilot study.

Intervention: SASS is a school-based, group cognitive-behavioral intervention that last approximately 3 months and that leverages school staff, peer assistants who were students that previously participated in SASS, and caregivers. The focus of SASS is to help students identified as having social anxiety learn strategies to address their anxiety and thrive. The current SASS program consists of group school sessions with about eight students, individual meetings between the student and a health-related professional, weekend social events, school-based meetings with the students’ caregivers, booster sessions, and meetings between the students and teachers as needed. During the group sessions, students learn about realistic thinking and social skills, such as initiating conversations, establishing friendships, and assertiveness. The students are also exposed to various social situations both in school and outside of school to help them learn about and practice their skills and to generalize to different contexts. Previous research found that SASS was beneficial to students in predominately White suburban schools. The revised version of SASS will address the needs of students in racially and ethnically diverse urban schools. The proposed adaptations include ways to help students recognize internalized racism and bolster their racial identity.

Research Design and Methods: In Phase 1, the researchers will assess the cultural and structural acceptability of SASS for students in racially and ethnically diverse urban schools. The researchers will work with a community development team and conduct focus groups and interviews with students and caregivers to inform revisions. This work will help researchers to identify and address potential challenges to engaging the targeted population and to make necessary cultural and structural changes to SASS (such as having meetings with parents by phone instead of in-person, adjusting the use of peer mentors so that they don’t miss class time, expanding the typical instruction about anxiety responses to include responses to racism and discrimination). The researchers will continue to adapt SASS, adding relevant engagement strategies and developing appropriate procedures to help schools identify social anxiety and to provide training for school personnel. During Phase 2, the researchers will test the usability, feasibility, and acceptability of the adapted SASS and make any other necessary revisions. In Stage 3, they will conduct a pilot randomized controlled trial of the full, revised version of SASS.

Cost Analysis: Throughout the project, the researchers will track costs associated with the program (start-up, training, consultation, and implementation) for each program component.

Control Condition: The comparison condition will be standard school practice.

Key Measures: Data collection will involve attitudinal and behavioral engagement, implementation fidelity, social anxiety severity, social competence, internalized racism, racial identity, school engagement, and school records of attendance, grades, and disciplinary referrals.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use qualitative data to inform SASS revision and to determine the intervention’s usability and feasibility. They will use regression and effect estimation to estimate the intervention’s impact on student outcomes.