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Influencing Aggression and Reactive Aggression: The social-emotional learning fortification program in Antigua/Barbuda.

Nicola Bird, PhD (1), Sara Makki Alamdari, PhD (2), Leslie Walwyn, MBBS, MPH (3), Alaina Gomes, MSc (1), Carolyn Gentle-Genitty, PhD (4)*

Integrated Health Outreach, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, ihealthoutreach@gmail.com, 268-724-4842. 

2 Department of Social Work, West Texas A&M University, Canyon, TX, USA, salamdari@wtamu.edu, 806-651-0000

3 Department of Clinical Medicine, College of Medicine, American University of Antigua, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, lwalwyn@auamed.net, 268-464-1309

4 Department of Social Work, Indiana University , Indianapolis, IN, USA, cgentleg@iu.edu, 317- 274-3960. 

* Correspondence: 

Carolyn Gentle-Genitty, PhD 

cgentleg@iu.edu

 

ABSTRACT

There are no structured programs to respond to youth violence amongst students in the Caribbean. There has been little data collected and organized research conducted on the efficacy and impact of programs which may combat youth violence. Without rigorous impact evaluations, the region continues to lack effective and sustaining strategies for preventive programs. This manuscript shares outcomes from the implementation of the Children and Youth Social-Emotional Learning Fortification (C-SELF) strategy embedded into the curriculum in five schools in Antigua and Barbuda. In 2020, using data from 2017 to 2018, a mixed method study was conducted with 482 (intervention) and 152 (control) primary school students. Data was analyzed for the influence of the intervention on 16 factors. The findings suggest positive outcomes, without significance, in self-control and competence. It demonstrates the importance of social-emotional learning curriculum changes to increase children’s mastery of self-regulated behaviors, decision-making, self-management, and self-leadership skills.

Keywords:  Social-emotional learning, aggression, self-regulation 

INTRODUCTION

There is a spotlight on social-emotional health. A pandemic has increased the call for such teaching and learning strategies in responding to students. Most programs aim to help schools and students self-regulate behaviors, make decisions, self-manage, and increase leadership skills. We examine, herein, the effects of the Children and Youth Social-Emotional Learning Fortification (C-SELF) program in public primary schools in Antigua and Barbuda. 

This manuscript shares outcomes from the implementation of the C-SELF strategy embedded into the curriculum in five schools in Antigua and Barbuda. In 2020, using data from 2017 to 2018, a mixed method study was conducted with 482 (intervention) and 152 (control) primary school students. Data was analyzed for the influence of the intervention on 16 factors. The findings suggest positive outcomes, without significance, in self-control and competence. Significance was found only when self-reported aggression was compared to teacher reactive-aggression perception of student behavior. The findings suggest students’ behaviors, with teachers or in the classroom, are linked to being teased or being aggravated in other parts of the school environment. This new data, though known anecdotally, offers insight into how we capture and deploy effective resources. It demonstrates the importance of social-emotional learning curriculum changes to improve children’s self-regulated behaviors, decision-making, self-management, and self-leadership skills. More longitudinal studies in the future are needed to study where social-emotional learning strategies help to reduce aggression particularly those which may lead to violent behaviors in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. 

Review of the Literature

The Caribbean is negatively impacted by rising crime and violence. Based on homicide rates, the region is the most violent in the world (Inter-American Development Bank 2017). There has been an explosion of youth violence in the region. It is the leading cause of the death of young men in the Caribbean between the ages of 15 and 24 (World Bank 2007). Additionally, violence against women in general is higher with female youth in the Caribbean, disproportionately victimized by violence (Pan American Health Organization 2012). Caribbean countries account for three out of the top ten recorded rates of global rapes (World Bank 2007). While the region demonstrates violence and crime patterns comparable to countries with similar macro- and socio-economic status and demographics, it displays a disproportionately high rate of crime that poverty and social factors do not solely explain. 

Youth violence, although alarming, is preventable. Schools serve as a distinctive point of access to both prevent and reduce the rate of youth violence and crime for long-term social impact. Once the behaviors are mitigated early, there are decreases in probability of later violence and crime (World Bank Sustainable Development Department of Latin America and The Caribbean Region 2011). Evidence-based youth preventive care programs show early investment yield greater return and decreases violence and other risk behaviors (e.g. substance abuse, unprotected sex, obesity) (Schweinhart 2013). 

Statement of the Problem

Structured programs to respond to the concerns of youth violence are non-existent in the Caribbean. There has been little data collected and organized research to improve social, emotional, and behavioral health (UNDP 2012; World Bank 2007). Because high-income countries are the primary producers of knowledge in this area, there is a need for more culturally relevant LAC regional studies and evaluation on programs defined for violence (Campie et al. 2019; Wirtz et al. 2016). 

Study AIM and research questions

The study goal is to assess the outcomes associated with the implementation of the C-SELF strategy in the Antigua and Barbuda school curriculum. The program serves as a resource for teachers, school administrators, government, and community stakeholders in the region. To respond to the study goal, permission was sought and granted from the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education for implementation in several schools. Students were assessed using formal measures of social-emotional competencies on five factors, namely persistence, self-control, social competence, proactive aggression, and reactive aggression. 

Research Questions

  1. Can the C-SELF Programme improve children’s maladaptive behaviour? If so, how effective is it? 
  2. Is there a significant difference in social-emotional competencies when the students are grouped by gender?

Hypothesis

The investigation’s research hypothesis was the C-SELF would be able to: 

  1. Increase students’ ability to regulate their emotions. 
  2. Decrease proactive and reactive aggression. 

Methodology

The methodology details the research participants, intervention program, research design, sampling techniques used in the collection of data, data collection procedures, and instrumentation. It also presents the legal and ethical considerations.

Implementation of the Intervention Program

Five schools (n = 621) of primary public-school children in Antigua and Barbuda from grades 3 to 6 aged six to thirteen participated in the intervention program. Grades 2 and below received 2-3-weeks intervention. Class size varied per class and school (n = 10 to 30 per class). In Antigua and Barbuda, there are 29 public primary schools with a student body of 4,795. There are four primary school zones. At least one school was chosen from each zone equivalent on school size, achievement level, and socioeconomic status by the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education. The research protocol was described to the five principals. All intervention classes, grades 3 to 6, from all five schools, participated. 

These schools received training and instruction on implementing C-SELF strategies. Teachers received one two-hour training seminar pre-intervention. The teachers and students received 25-minutes of instruction during class time for ten-weeks. The teachers maintained the C-SELF strategies daily as part of their curriculum for one academic school year. There was weekly monitoring of programme fidelity. Support was provided by the researchers for the duration of the one-academic year. Families were also invited to training programmes offered through the schools on C-SELF-techniques.  

METHOD 

Participants

For the purpose of this study, only School 2 and School 5 were selected. From School 2, 62 students and from School 5, 219 students participated in the intervention. Nine teachers from these two schools participated in rating students’ behavior once before the implementation of the intervention in 2017 and once one week after the termination of the intervention in 2018 using a paper-based survey. On average, one teacher was responsible for rating approximately 31 (31.2 rounded) students, since the total for both schools was 281, and the total teachers were 9.  For comparison between pre- and post-tests, each student had a de-identifiable numerical code that only the researchers and teachers were aware of. The de-identifiable numerical code was done based on the order of data entry per school. After rating students, teachers kept the completed surveys in a locker until the research team received them. The researchers entered data in a SPSS file using double data entry (Day et al. 1998). 

Design

The major aim of the study was to assess the impact of the intervention by: (1) pre- and post-surveys to measure the changes before and after the intervention, (2) comparing the changes when the students are grouped by gender. The pre-post study design was used in this research. This design is not very strong in determining causal relationships between the dependent and independent variables; however, the study increased validity and effectiveness by using pre- and post-testing where tests are conducted prior to intervention to determine confounders. A survey administered by teachers was used in this study. Teachers observed and rated students’ social-emotional competencies and aggression based on their perception. Procedure

The researchers got an Institutional Review Board approval. Prior to commencing any data collection, informed consent was obtained from all participating teachers and pupils’ parents. No reference to individuals was made within the final report. All data was stored and secured. No perceived harm, risk, or possible hurt was anticipated from this proposed intervention. The study was expected to enrich the curriculum in the participating schools.

Measures

Two scales were used for teacher surveys. The first one was Tauck Family Foundation Formative Assessment Tool (2014) (Supplementary File 1: Appendix 3), which is to measure teacher rated persistence (3 items), self-control (3 items), and social competence (6 items) skills in children aged 8 to 12. Example items from persistence, self-control, and social competence sub-scales are “worked on tasks until they were finished”, “waited in line patiently”, “worked well with peers”, respectively. Teachers were asked to rate students’ behavior in the last quarter or since the last reporting time using a 4-point Likert scale ranged from “none of the time” to “all of the time”. Cronbach’s alpha for teacher survey in the previous literature was reported as: persistence α = 0.92; social competence α = 0.97; self-control α = 0.82 (Child Trends 2014). The current study also found strong Cronbach’s alpha for these three sub-scales at both pre- and post-tests: persistence (pre- and post-test) α = 0.93; social competence pre-test α = 0.94 and post-test α = 0.96; self-control pre-test α = 0.93 and post-test α = 0.95. 

Second scale was Reactive/Proactive Aggression—FastTrack (Teacher Checklist) (Supplementary File 1: Appendix 4), which is to measure teachers’ perceptions of children aged 4-18 in terms of proactive and reactive aggressive behavior. The measure has two subscales: reactive aggressive behavior (3 items) and proactive aggressive behavior (3 items). “When this child has been teased or threatened, he or she gets angry easily and strikes back” is an example item of proactive aggression. One example of reactive aggression is “this child threatens or bullies others in order to get his or her own way”. Teachers were asked to indicate how often each child exhibits certain aggressive behaviors using a 5-point Likert scale with the options of “never true” to “almost always true”. In the previous literature, strong internal consistency was reported: for reactive aggression, Cronbach’s alpha of 0.94 and for proactive aggression, Cronbach’s alpha of .90 were found (Dodge & Coie 1987). Pre- and post-tests in the current study also confirmed high reliability of these two subscales: reactive aggression pre-test α = 0.93 and post-test α = 0.94; proactive aggression pre-test α = 0.91 and post-test α = 0.92.

Demographic information was also asked using a few questions at the beginning of the survey. The gender question provided two options of male and female. The researchers used an open-ended question to measure age. Class level was asked using a closed-ended question with six options ranging from Grade 3 to Grade 6. 

Data Analysis

For the analysis, descriptive statistics were provided for the study’s key variables. A series of paired sample t-tests were conducted to examine changes in the five domains between pre- and post-tests in total and for each school, as well as for each gender group. Before running a t-test analysis, assumptions were investigated.  

RESULTS

Participants

Of 281 students participating in the intervention, teachers rated 221 (78.6%) students for a pre-test, post-test, or both without missing data. The majority (86.43%) were from School 5. Students were in Grades 3 to 6. The majority were male (61.2%). Students were between 7 and 13 years-old with the mean age of 10.14 (see Table 1). 

Table 1:  Students’ Descriptive Information (N = 221)

Variables Categories n(%) Range M(SD)
School
School 2 30(13.57%)
School 5 191(86.43%)
Grade
Grade 3 48(21.72%)
Grade 4 57(25.79%)
Grade 5 57(25.79%)
Grade 6 59(26.70%)
Gender

Key Variables

Teachers rated the students in 5 domains of persistence, self-control, social competence, reactive aggression, and proactive aggression before and after the intervention. Table 2 indicates descriptive information of these five domains for both pre- and post-tests, as well as for each school and in total for both schools. With potential response range between 1 and 4, in pre-test, the mean score of persistence, self-control, and social competence for both schools were reported 2.63, 2.74, and 2.73, respectively. In post-test, the mean score of persistence, self-control, and social competence was found 2.78, 2.92, and 2.84, respectively. Reactive and proactive aggression had the potential response range of 1 to 4. In the pre-test, reactive aggression of 1.97 and proactive aggression of 1.26 were reported for both schools. In the post-test, reactive aggression and proactive aggression were found 1.87 and 1.34, respectively.   

Table 2: Descriptive Information of the Study’s Key Variables

Phase Domains School 2 School 5 Total
n M(SD) n M(SD) 4 n M(SD) 4
Pre-Test Persistence 14 3.12(.59) 1 167 2.59(.86) 181 2.63(.85)
Self-control 14 3.14(.62) 1 167 2.71(.77) 181 2.74(.77)
Social Competence 14 3.01(.57) 1 167 2.71(.66) 181 2.73(.65)
Reactive Aggression 14 2.71(.57) 2 168 1.91(.89) 182 1.97(.89)
Proactive Aggression  14 1.29(.34) 3 168 1.25(.65) 182 1.26(.63)
Post-Test Persistence 30 2.71(.82) 4 84 2.80(.89) 114 2.78(.87)
Self-control 30 2.87(.84) 4 84 2.94(.85) 114 2.92(.84)
Social Competence 30 2.69(.62) 5 84 2.89(.73) 114 2.84(.71)
Reactive Aggression 30 2.10(.72) 6 84 1.79(.91) 114 1.87(.87)
Proactive Aggression  30 1.37(.51) 7 84 1.33(.66) 114 1.34(.62)
Notes: (1) Ranged between 2 and 4; (2): Ranged between 1.67 and 3.67; (3): Ranged between 1.00 and 2.00; (4): Ranged between 1.00 and 4.00; (5): Ranged between1.33 and 3.67. (6): Ranged between 1.00 and 3.33; (7): Ranged between 1.00 and 3.00;

 

T-Test Analysis 

The researchers conducted two sets of t-test analysis. First, to examine differences between pre- and post-test in the 5 domains of study, a t-test was run for each school and for both schools together. Table 3 shows the results for each school and each domain as well as for all schools. In School 2, reactive aggression decreased significantly post-intervention. The researchers found significant improvement in domains of persistence, self-control, as well as social competence in School 5; however, proactive aggression has increased after the intervention. Looking at the data in total, the researchers found significant increases in persistence and self-control, as well as in proactive aggression. 

Table 3: T-Test Comparing Pre- and Post-Tests across Schools and in Total

Domains  School 2 School 5 Total
t(df) Diff M1 t(df) Diff M1 t(df) Diff M1
Persistence 1.25(13) .14 -2.49(59)* -.24 -2.02(73)* -.17
Self-control .74(13) .10 -4.20(59)** -.36 -3.60(73)** -.27
Social Competence 1.74(13) .17 -2.25(59)* -.15 -1.56(73) -.09
Reactive Aggression 5.15(13)** .62 -1.24(60) -.11 .26(74) .02
Proactive Aggression  .43(13) .05 -2.57(60)* -.16 -2.2(74)* -.12
Note (1): pre-test minus post-test

Further, a t-test was run to examine differences between pre- and post-test for each gender category. Table 4 presents results of this analysis. Both males and females experienced significant improvement in self-control post intervention. Although female students indicated significant decreases in reactive aggression, boys showed significant increment in proactive aggression. 

Table 4: T-Test Comparing Pre- and Post-Tests across Gender

Domains  Female Male
t(df) Diff M1 t(df) Diff M1
Persistence -1.11(25) -.14 -1.68(47) -.18
Self-control -3.88(25)** -.38 -2.06(47)* -.22
Social Competence -1.59(25) -.20 -.57(47) -.04
Reactive Aggression 3.41(25)** .41 -1.79(48) -.18
Proactive Aggression  .00(25) .00 -2.40(48)* -.18
Note (1): pre-test minus post-test

Before running the t-tests, assumptions were inspected. Dependent variables were measured at the continuous level. No significant outliers were detected. According to skewness and kurtosis values, dependent variables in four domains of persistence, self-control, social competence, and reactive aggression were normally distributed. Proactive aggression domain did not have a normal distribution; however, the researchers proceeded the analysis as t-test is robust to violation of this assumption.  

DISCUSSION

Schools are instrumental in helping to shape students’ self-regulation, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Their impact is wide-ranging as their influence on cognitive and social development is long-term. School children and adolescents in public schools in the Caribbean spend a large portion of their day (minimum six hours) and year (September to June) at school. The traditional Caribbean model of schools reduced its role to that of an academic institution. However, school provides the greatest access to large numbers of young people to help shape their minds, emotions, and behaviors. Social, emotional, and behavioral health and learning integration fosters positive development, teaches life-long social-emotional skills, and strengthens mental and emotional fitness. The comprehensive strategy targeted at changing cultural and behavioral patterns that promote violent reactions to conflict can be reduced through C-SELF integration into the daily school curriculum.  

The impact of social-emotional learning is far reaching and sustainable. These are lasting proficiencies that foster both personal and social wellbeing, reducing the long-term costs to society over time. Social-emotional and non-cognitive skills are highly malleable for enduring results (Jones et al. 2015; Moffitt et al. 2011). 

CONCLUSION

School-based prevention programs have been shown to reduce the incidence of problem behaviours such as violence and aggression (Beets et al. 2009; Hahn et al. 2007). Integrating social, emotional, and behavioral health into the school curriculum is a preventive measure that teaches students healthy coping styles that prevents risk behaviors. 

 

Limits of the Study 

Not having meaningful results in student surveys might be attributed to students’ lack of familiarity with how to respond to surveys in Antigua and Barbuda. One of the key limitations for the study was the academic developmental level of the students in each school. It was quickly realized that some of the students in Grades 3 and 4 had difficulty doing the surveys on their own. In some schools, most of the students in Grades 3 and 4 needed the questions to be read out loud and in some cases explained. This could indicate that students might not be performing at the expected levels, which could be caused by numerous factors, or the assessment tool might have been difficult for them to understand possibly due to verbiage and cultural reasons, rather than limited cognitive capacities.  

Ethics and Consent 

Prior to commencing any data collection, informed consent was obtained from all participating teachers and pupils’ parents. No reference to individuals was made within the final report. All data was stored and secured. No perceived harm, risk, or possible hurt was anticipated from the proposed intervention program. The study was anticipated to enrich the curriculum in the participating school. 

Acknowledgments 

This work was supported by the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

Funding Information 

This research was funded by the Global Environment Facility/Small Grants Programme (GEF/SGP), SGP Grant Project— ATG/SGP/OP6/Y3/CORE/04-Integrated Health Outreach, implemented by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on behalf of the three GEF Implementing Agencies—UNDP, United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the World Bank – and executed by United Nations Office for Project Services.

Supplementary Files 

Supplementary File 1: Appendix 1 to 4. Research Instruments.

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