This project aims to evaluate the impact of three interventions oriented to enhance participants’ non-cognitive skills and character. Our target audience will consist of students enrolled in participants and comparison schools in Central America, with the ages between 12 and 16 years—second and third educational levels.
The first intervention consists to participate in extra-curricular activities that include dance, sports, art, among others. In this alternative, children are not learning a specific curriculum, but remain under adult supervision and protected from their risky contexts during a couple of hours.
The second psychological curriculum we study, Construcción de Fortaleza de carácter (“Character Strengths Development Program” or CSD), aims to strengthen participants’ character and increase their development and psychological well-being. According to the theory of change for this intervention, positive psychological resources developed through CSD will drive beneficial behaviors such as staying in school and increasing academic performance; improvement in relationships; decision making and establishment of life goals; and taking actions to achieve the latter. These positive resources will help participants to prevent and reduce harmful behaviors such as school dropouts, poor academic performance, violent behaviors, involvement in illegal activities, and other risky behaviors.
CSD includes 32 sessions of training or reflection. The first type aims to reinforce the concepts and their importance in order for participants to achieve well-being. In the reflection sessions, participants are invited to perform self-analysis—that is, analysis of their history and environment. To achieve the desired level of reflection, implementers use an active learning methodology, which places the student at the center of the learning experience and motivates participation through individual and group activities. Participants actively practice the strengths, reflect their application in daily life, and acquire tools to adopt them easily.
The third intervention is a combination of extra-curricular clubs and a mindfulness program, Salon Tranquilo (“Calm Classroom®” or MF), a mindfulness-based and relaxation response program. The program includes directed meditation for stress and anxiety reduction and control of automatic responses; it uses thought techniques to help participants develop self-awareness, mental concentration, and inner calm. Through several activities, MF provides students and staff with tools to manage stress more effectively, to regulate their emotions, and at the same time to lead more productive and well-balanced lives. The MF program includes 42 different activities of breathing, stretching, relaxation, and focusing techniques. Each script technique takes three minutes to implement. Mentors conduct these scheduled practices during the clubs and encourage participants to use the techniques naturally when appropriate.
Participants will meet once per week during one academic year (between 7-8 months). Each of the sessions is implemented after-school time, with an approximate duration of 1-1.5 hours. For methodological reasons, club sizes are between 13-15 participants on average.