Beginning in the 1990s, our Founder and Board President, Dr. Mary Alvord, and colleagues began researching how to best teach children resilience, or the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences. Dr. Alvord developed The Resilience Builder Program® (RBP), a group therapy that has been clinically proven to help children in private practice and in schools. It is designed to help youth bounce back from the challenges in their lives by increasing their confidence, self-esteem, self-control, and use of coping strategies. Most significantly, the RBP is a proactive intervention; learning key resilience skills now can help prevent struggles with depression or anxiety later in addition to helping youth already experiencing them.
Dr. Alvord recognized that so many youth do not have access to therapy due to financial constraints, logistical challenges, or social stigma reasons. Beginning in 2015, Dr. Alvord in collaboration with Dr. Brendan Rich at Catholic University of America began measuring the effectiveness of implementing the RBP in schools. By bringing the program to schools, more children had access and were able to receive care in a familiar environment. Dr. Alvord sought to continue to increase access to this proactive mental health intervention, especially for students from racially and economically marginalized communities who have historically faced the most barriers to treatment. She founded Resilience Across Borders in 2016 to focus on bringing the RBP to public and tuition-free private schools that primarily serve students who qualify for free or reduced meals, a key indicator of childhood poverty.
From 2016–2020, Resilience Across Borders trained clinicians and graduate students to deliver the RBP to small groups of students, who were identified by our partner schools as most in need of additional support. Our research, published in a peer-reviewed journal, showed that students had an increase in resilience, prosocial behaviors, positive emotions, and a decrease in negative emotions. Though not the focus of the intervention, our research also showed a significant increase in students’ academic engagement and motivation. While this approach proved successful, we were limited in the number of students we could reach (over 200 from 2016-2020). Based on our success, several administrators expressed the desire for us to reach more students. When the pandemic hit, we took the opportunity to adapt our program into a teacher-implemented curriculum in order to expand our reach when schools reopened.
After a successful pilot, we launched the new Resilience Builder Program – Universal™ (RBP-U). The RBP-U intervention consists of 36, 15-minute mini-lessons that teachers deliver to their entire class, exponentially increasing our impact. We train teachers and provide the RBP-U lesson plans, videos that introduce key concepts, and other materials so that they can easily administer the intervention. We also provide resources for parents on building resilience skills at home. RBP-U was developed by mental health experts in consultation with local teachers who completed surveys about which content and format would be most useful in their classrooms. Our trained mental health providers meet monthly with teachers to answer questions, support program implementation, and receive feedback on the program. This school year, we trained 11 teachers. By training teachers directly, our lessons are currently helping 200 students this year alone. Our goal is to double the number of teachers trained and students served every year for the next two years.