The best long-term strategy for effectively addressing problems is to optimize youth involvement through school-based interventions.  Many youth-involved and youth-led programs fail to achieve significant change.  There are numerous potential reasons, from the stakeholders involved (e.g., program developers, program implementers, students) to the programmatic contexts (e.g., community capacity, readiness, goals). For programs to work most effectively in schools, program developers need innovative research from numerous fields, a foundation in student development theory and youth culture, expertise in theory and model development, and instructional design. Program implementers should understand the needs of the culture and blend programming with existing programs to maximize the receptivity of trainees and achieve synergistic benefits for the students and school climate. And ultimately, youth should be provided a voice and involved throughout decision-making processes, including the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based initiatives.

With the goal of addressing these current gaps in the field, COR 4 was developed to provide an intentional pathway of youth development through various programs. COR 4 is comprised of four approaches that aim to develop students into more caring leaders who change their surroundings through actions, consciousness, solutions, and analytics.  Each COR 4 approach builds on the prior learning outcomes as participants progress through each approach, creating an integrated system of student development, and eventually, positive school climate change. As students graduate to the next approach, they more deeply understand and apply caring behaviors to benefit their classmates and school community.  COR 4 is based on research, student development theory, and synergistic theory of change using programming.

COR 4 is comprised of four approaches that aim to develop students into more caring leaders who change their surroundings through actions, consciousness, solutions, and analytics. Each COR 4 approach builds on the prior learning outcomes as participants progress through each approach, creating an integrated system of student development and school climate change. As students graduate to the next approach, they more deeply understand and apply caring behaviors to benefit their classmates and school.


“Recognizing and Reinforcing Caring Actions”

Actions encourage students to perform and reinforce kindness as recipients and bystanders of caring actions. The approach uses “acting into thinking” (compared to “thinking into acting”) meaning actions and experiences facilitate education and awareness. This approach focuses on decreasing negative behaviors, increasing positive behaviors and even changing one's habits to better care for others.

The Actions framework has two programs: school-wide student assembly and a kindness app.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 3.49.03 PM.png

Student Assembly

To engage in caring actions, a student needs to feel empowered, which includes three psychological components: self-efficacy/self-confidence, knowledge, and motivation. Students experience collective empowerment when they join a movement, creating a sense of collective unity and greater purpose to promote care and prevent harm in their schools.

 The school-wide presentation focuses on the diversity of caring, from the little daily actions to large-scale campaigns and initiatives. Presenters share how students recovered after the Virginia Tech shooting, initiated a movement of active caring, and then empowered others to promote care and prevent harm in their schools. Students will learn to be positive deviants who counter negative cultural norms by upstanding as part of a collective effort to transform their school culture.

Kindness App

Cyberbullying, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and social isolation are increasingly prevalent for the youth of our country. Numerous factors have contributed to these pressing problems. For decades, the social fabric of our country has been deteriorating.  Specifically in the past decade, mobile technology and social media apps have facilitated toxic online communication and leveraged neuroscience to facilitate belonging and status via unhealthy online mechanisms, such as “likes” and notifications. 

This app-based program encourages youth to look for the “good” happening in their school and then recognize their peers for caring actions using a trackable wristband.  In a world of negative, gossip, and harmful communities, this mobile app counters these problems by focusing and lifting up the silent, previously unrecognized moments of goodness. The next version of the app will encourage youth to move beyond upstanding by performing daily kindness to benefit the school climate and culture. Students will use a goal-setting approach to achieve kindness goals, track their own and peers’ progress, and see the benefits of kindness.


Based on their role either performing, receiving, or as a bystander of a caring action, students address school climate issues and attain school climate aspirations via the triadic interaction model.

Click on the program model image above to learn more details about the  Building Caring Actions  program.

Click on the program model image above to learn more details about the Building Caring Actions program.


By performing caring actions, students see the costs and benefits of kindness in their lives. They experience the diversity of caring actions, but also feel validated when they understand caring is harder than it looks.


“Continuously Developing Caring Mindfulness”

Consciousness encourages students to look inward to become self-aware, value psychological diversity, and counter the barriers that prevent upstanding behaviors. By understanding the social-emotional skills to identify the influential factors (i.e., personality, identity, values, culture, motives) affecting themselves and their peers at school, students understand how to engage in complex caring actions to benefit a peer and/or their entire team.  By increasing their awareness of how both individual identity and cultural contexts influence their caring actions, participants become more mindful of how to tailor caring behaviors to individual, team, and community needs. Using an experiential learning model, students translate this knowledge into skills and skills into caring actions.

The Consciousness framework has three programs: self-awareness, psychological diversity, and upstanding. 

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 3.56.36 PM.png


Research shows empathy has declined among young people for the past four decades.  Equally concerning is the rise of narcissism among youth.  The quality of peer relationships are declining.  Perhaps these statistics among other disturbing trends inform the philosophy of psychologist Tasha Eurich, who writes in Insight that “Self-awareness is the meta-skill of the 21st century.”  

The facilitated workshop of Self-Awareness uses an innovative psychological self-assessment tool for participants to understand their own thinking styles (analytical, structural, social, and conceptual) and behaving styles (expressiveness, assertiveness, and flexibility).  Students also learn to provide feedback to one another in order to develop goodness friendships and gain critical insights from their peers.

Psychological Diversity (Other-Awareness)

Diversity of thought and behavior in teams leads to better outcomes.  When diverse teams lack understanding of these psychological differences, conflict is likely and under-performance is nearly guaranteed.  In fact, homogeneous teams perform better than diverse teams when diverse team members cannot harness these differences as strengths.  As a result, diverse team members should learn the science of the self and teams.

This facilitated workshop of Psychological Diversity enhances other-awareness, counters implicit biases, and leverages cognitive/ behavioral diversity of team members to enhance team functioning. Ultimately, this leads to a better understanding of how thinking style’s influence actions, communication, and relationships.


School climate and culture change when caring from bystanders, in the form of upstanding, occurs by more students. For decades, researchers have focused on bystanders who observe harmful situations, such as bullying, harassment, or threats of violence.  These situations only reflect the prevention side of the upstanding coin.  Promotive situations also benefit from upstanding by students. These include moments when someone is caring or helpful, which offers an opportunity for peer recognition.  In fact, to change school culture, upstanding must occur for all situations, including the good and bad.

The facilitated workshop has three different tracks for three types of mindsets: mixed, preventive, and promotive mindsets.  Participants complete a psychological self-assessment to determine the mixed/promotive/preventive mindset of trainees and are then placed into groups based on their mindsets.  

The mixed upstanding track focuses on students who neither prefer preventive or promotive thinking. These students are best equipped to switch between upstanding to recognize good behaviors and upstanding to prevent harmful actions.

The preventive track encourages preventive-minded upstanders to look for harmful actions, understand the physical and psychological barriers inhibiting upstanding behavior, and ultimately put into practice the actions that prevent harm.  For example, while observing the need to intervene to reduce conflict from escalating and eliminate future problems, training provides students with a greater understanding of their own consciousness and cognitive barriers to upstanding. As a result, students are more likely to overcome the cognitive barrier and effectively intervene on behalf of their peer.

The promotive track encourages promotive-minded upstanders to look for kind actions and then follow similar upstanding steps. Increased mindfulness helps students overcome the psychological barriers of upstanding, which increases the likelihood of seeing and then thanking someone for caring actions.

These tracks offer an upstanding program which leverages the psychological strengths of participants so that collective efforts result in less problems/risks and more aspirations/assets at school.



Students address climate issues and develop their understanding and application of character strengths by participating in an adaptation of the experiential learning model, as well as integration of Cor Foundation’s Building Caring Actions program model.

Building Caring Consciousness.png

Experience Stage

Program participants are introduced to the concept (e.g., thinking preference, psychological barriers, upstanding) and then experience the concept in action. During this stage, students participate in an activity to immerse themselves in an experience related to the lesson’s character strength.

Goals – Define character strength, identify performer, receiver, and upstander’s use of character strength, experience benefit of character strength

Share Stage

Following the lesson’s character strength activity, students participate in a discussion to share with their peers their experience as either the performer, receiver, or upstander. For example, during the Courage lesson, performers will typically share if they felt discomfort, hesitance, or pride performing the courageous caring actions. Receivers will typically share positive feelings they experienced as a result of being the recipient of the courageous caring action. Upstanders frequently share their experience of observing the performance of the courageous caring action.

Goals – Perspective taking, empathy

Process Stage

After students hear from their peers, Character Coaches guide students through discussion questions to further reflect on their individual experiences with the lesson’s character strength.

Goals – meaning-making

Generalize Stage

After completing personal reflections and hearing peer reflections, participants generalize their experiences with the lesson’s character strength activity to real-world applications. Character Coaches challenge participants to create examples of how the character strength can be demonstrated through behaviors in various contexts (e.g., with friends, in classrooms, and at home). Character Coaches end the lesson by giving students Character Challenges. Character Challenges are behavioral applications of the lesson’s character strength. Students are encouraged to complete their Character Challenges prior to the following lesson plan. Character Challenges are divvied up based on a particular role (i.e., performer, receiver, upstander) students might play in real life in relation to a caring action.  

Goals –Identify applications of character strength beyond lesson plan

Apply Stage

During this stage, students are practicing the particular Character Challenge(s) they received from their Character Coaches. The Character Challenges facilitate participants’ self-confidence to perform caring actions across settings.

Goals – Performance of caring actions, build self-confidence to perform caring actions consistently

When caring leaders understand their own actions and consciousness, they are prepared to work on a team with others to create positive change.


Continuously Creating a Culture of Collaborative Solutions”

Solutions guides teams of students through a five-step, problem-solving process focused on the prevention of school problems (e.g., substance use, bullying, social isolation) and promotion of aspirations (e.g., school spirit, wellness). Throughout the curriculum, team members work collaboratively to assess, build capacity, plan, implement and evaluate their own solutions.  The curriculum benefits student participants (e.g., critical thinking, leadership), the youth-led team (e.g., team cohesion), and the school climate (e.g., reduced problems, increased aspirations).

Solutions supports students in developing their own evidence-informed strategies (from SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention).   For example, students in central Ohio recognized the need for alternatives for peers in hopes to decrease substance misuse. As a result, students identified the need to aid the freshmen transition process by increasing freshmen participation in after-school activities/clubs.  Students organized and implemented a school-wide, after-school activities fair to encourage students of all grades to join registered student organizations and sport teams.  Prior implementation of the approach has resulted in specific tracks of solutions, from mental health to safety and even recovery.


Youth-led for Mental Health

Adolescent mental health is the #1 concern reported by youth about their peers, regardless of family income levels. Simply put, anxiety and depression are on the rise along with suicide rates.  Schools are underfunded to address mental health challenges, especially given the current ratio of students to adult, whether it be students to counselor (recommended ratio of 250 students to 1 counselor compared to the 444:1 ratio nationally), students to social worker (250:1 recommended vs. 2,106:1 nationally), or students to school psychologist (700:1 recommended vs. 1,526:1 nationally) (ACLU, 2018). Therefore, a more immediate, low-cost approach is to create youth-led solutions for the rising mental health crisis.

Caring Solutions for Mental Health is a knowledge and skills-based course providing youth with an understanding of risk and protective factors related to mental health. Then, students can develop a team-based approach to promote mental wellness and prevent mental health crises. 

Students focusing on mental health have utilized the Caring Solutions program to create educational programming for both students and adults in their school and communities. Triggered by a suicide at a nearby school, students at a small school in north east Ohio completed the process of conducting a needs assessment and social norms survey within their school to identify perceptions of mental well-being and mental health concerns by their peers. Utilizing this data, they identified target goals (e.g., reduce mental health stigma, address anxiety and stress) and developed programming for their peers and parents.

Youth-led for Safety

Students are carrying books in bullet-proof backpacks.  Schools are regularly practicing lock down drills in the event of an armed intruder.  States are passing laws to arm teachers and increase the presence of security guards on school campuses.  Target hardening approaches result in students’ feeling and perceiving less safety. 

This facilitated workshop is customized toward Caring Solutions for Safety. Students develop their own solutions to keep their peers safe at school.When students develop and deliver evidence-informed, promotive and preventive safety solutions, students perceive more safety and are objectively safer

Youth-led for Recovery

There are no research-based, school shooting recovery models in the U.S. despite the prevalence of these traumatic events.  Moreover, youth are rarely involved in the healing and restoration process associated with recovery after such an event.  Research clearly shows that informal social support from peers helps individuals recover in the aftermath.

Based on the work of Chardon High School in the aftermath of their school shooting, these facilitated workshops create trauma-informed prosocial leadership and a process for student leaders to build their own promotive and preventive campaigns during recovery.


Students address school climate issues and attain school climate aspirations by following the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF). The full program model with all program components is shown below and then deconstructed with additional models and detail throughout the overview.

Click on the program model above to learn more details about the  Building Caring Solutions  program.

Click on the program model above to learn more details about the Building Caring Solutions program.

Implementing solutions requires data to understand the problems, the causes of problems, and to determine the effectiveness of these solutions, which is supported by Building Caring Analytics.


“Conducting Transparent Research”

Analytics guides teams of students through the 10-step psychological research workflow process of developing their own psychological research studies on their school climate. AP Psychology students use their course knowledge and the Analytics approach to generate research questions, develop methods, collect and analyze data for presentations of their findings at a school-based, psychological research conference. Participants learn the basics of the research process and the importance of conducting open, transparent and reproducible research based on best practices from the Center for Open Science and the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (Christensen, Freese, & Miguel, 2019).

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 4.36.09 PM.png

Youth-Led Assessment

What is prevalence of problems in the school environment? What do students want to see changed at school? The youth-led assessment team collects student perception data to gather information during the first phase of the caring solutions process: assessment.

During a 5-week experiential mini-course for Yorktown High School students after the AP Psychology, teams of students developed their own psychological studies to understand peer perceptions of the school climate, academics, mental health, technology and more. In one study, students explored the correlational relationship between stress, academic pressure, and life satisfaction. When students reflect on their studies and discussed their results, they seemed to understand the broader, external and invisible psychological factors influencing themselves and their peers.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 4.36.00 PM.png

Youth-Led Evaluation

Are youth-led solutions actually creating quantifiable change on problems in the school climate? The youth-led evaluation team can determine whether these initiatives are working effectively or whether they need to be re-designed. They could encourage school administrators to collect specific data or administer student survey to learn how public perception is changing.


Of the 14 AP Psychology course areas, none focus on the most pressing concern in psychology: the need for open, transparent, and reproducible psychological research. In order for high school students to develop an understanding and appreciation for open, reproducible, and transparent research, they must experience the process of conducting their own psychological studies. While AP Psychology course curriculum includes lecture, activities, and interactive software to prepare students for the culminating AP exam, 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. The Analytics – High School Program empowers teams of students to develop their own psychological research projects using a 10-step research flow process adapted from the Center for Open Science’s research workflow model ( The program model is deconstructed with additional models and detail throughout the overview.

Click on the program model above to learn more about the  Building Caring Analytics  program.

Click on the program model above to learn more about the Building Caring Analytics program.

Research Posters

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? 

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 12.33.08 PM.png

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 ( 


Listen below to hear students share their journey of researching school climate...

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!


Youth-led interventions still need adults. In fact, school change must involve adults and youth because both stakeholders influence one another and the environment they are attempting to change. A youth-led approach is similar to best practices for community-level change efforts in public health. In the public health field, best practices call for professionals to involve members of the community in all levels of decision-making and intervention development, implementation, and evaluation. By doing so, public health professionals create buy-in and systems which are sustainable and culturally competent. Unfortunately for youth, the same worldview is rarely applied to address the challenges they face. Rather, adults are viewed as experts on youth issues and development, while youth are viewed as recipients of interventions and uninformed. The youth-led approach is successful because in strives to create processes reflective of youth being equal stakeholders for solving the challenges they face.