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Local psychologist helping to build ‘Strong Kids’

Teresa Ristow
Steamboat Springs psychologist Dr. Barbara Gueldner holds copies of the Strong Kids curriculum at her office on Oak Street in Steamboat Springs.
Teresa Ristow

— Teaching children about emotions, goal-setting, stress and anger can lead to lifelong resiliency skills to help them face the challenges of adult life.

And according to widespread research, those same skills can also help children succeed in the classroom.

“The research shows you need to have social and emotional skills to excel academically,” said Dr. Barbara Gueldner, a pediatric and school psychologist practicing in Steamboat Springs. “We want to deliberately teach social and emotional skills to build their resilience.”

While studying for her doctorate at the University of Oregon a decade ago, Gueldner and some of her colleagues co-authored a curriculum about social and emotional learning under the leadership of the late Dr. Kenneth Merrell, their professor and mentor, and the Oregon Resiliency Project research team.

Merrell was inspired to produce the curriculum, called Merrell’s Strong Kids, after learning of alarmingly high rates of youth mental health problems, barriers in getting students help and how those problems could lead to academic issues and school dropouts.

The first edition of the curriculum, which includes Strong Start, Strong Kids and Strong Teens, was released in 2007 and has received favorable reviews since.

Gueldner said the curriculum has been translated into Korean and generated interest from Vietnam, as well as across the United States.

The 2007 editions were purchased by the Steamboat Springs School District, Gueldner said, but she was unaware of whether the lessons were still used.

When a publisher for the curriculum set out to produce a revised second edition a few years ago, he turned to Gueldner and her colleagues from the University of Oregon to do the rewrite.

“Dr. Merrell was a mentor for all of us. He took care of his students,” Gueldner said. “We all feel passionate about this.”

Gueldner said the new curriculum, published in May, incorporates new research, new evidenced-based practices and the knowledge she and the other working professionals have gained in the field.

“The process was really fun and really exciting,” Gueldner said. “I got to work with a fabulous team of other psychologists. We all had areas of expertise that we brought to the table.”

Gueldner’s co-authors for Strong Kids and Strong Teens were Dr. Dianna Carrizales-Engelmann, Dr. Laura L. Feuerborn and Dr. Oanh K. Tran, while Dr. Sara A. Whitcomb and Dr. Danielle M. Parisi revised the Strong Start program, which is designed specifically for preschool through second-grade students.

Since the original release of the curriculum, research has continued to support the benefits of social and emotional skills for students in the classroom.

According to a 2011 analysis published in the journal Child Development, students who participate in school-based programs promoting social and emotional development see an 11 percent increase in standardized test scores and a 10 percent decrease in emotional distress.

While there are other social and emotional education curriculums available, the 12-lesson new edition of Strong Kids provides an affordable options for educators and mental health professionals working with students. The full curriculum is broken into five sections based on student age, and each section retails for $40.

While Gueldner and her colleagues worked hard on the material, the greatest beneficiaries of the curriculum will be students, including those who would have studied under Merrell at the University of Oregon.

Per Merrell’s wishes, all royalties from the sale of the curriculum are put into a scholarship fund in Merrell’s honor, and will go towards scholarships for other school psychology students who show leadership potential. To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow


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