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ASU's Compass for Courage helps kids with anxiety

Research from an ASU psychology institute led to a program that helps kids build courage and cope with anxiety

ASU reach program

"We can help kids battle their anxiety and gain courage." Illustration published on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. 

Using ASU’s entrepreneurship resources, Ryan Stoll, a graduate student in psychology, has started a business to help kids cope with anxiety and learn how to build courage.

“Compass for Courage” is a series of six, 25-minute lessons designed to teach kids how to relax, manage worries, identify emotions and face stressful situations. It has been implemented for research in 26 elementary schools and is transitioning to being available for purchase.

Stoll did the research underlying his lessons as part of a team in ASU's Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health institute, or REACH.

“The purpose of the REACH institute is to take all of these programs, because in our field there's probably 400 of these programs for various ages, a vast majority, like 90%, aren't being implemented in the settings that they were developed for,” Stoll said.

“It’s a multi pronged problem," he said. "In academia … (it) takes a really long time for people to believe in a program. It's something like 17 years for 14 percent of programs to even be considered for public health impact.”

REACH tries to bridge the time gap between research and implementation.

“I started a business that will be selling Compass and providing training for schools, just to get around this 17 year gap,” Stoll said.

Stoll entered into the Changemaker Challenge at ASU last year and won $5,000, which he used to rebrand "REACH for Success" as "Compass for Courage" and create a new prototype. 

“We realized maybe it’s not just anxiety and fear that we need to be looking at, but also 'how does courage develop?' 'How does bravery develop?' and 'How can we instill those skills in kids?' 'How do we teach courage?'" Stoll said.

His business takes a new approach to REACH's mission, Stoll said.

“For the 30 years that the Prevention Research Center (a predecessor to REACH) was around, the focus was on developing and testing these interventions and making sure they're working”, Stoll said. “So several of the programs over there have 20-30 years of research behind them and then it became time to look at the portfolio programs and realize that there is more that we could be doing.” 

Compass for Courage was implemented under the REACH for Success brand in several schools, including in the Kyrene School District, said Shari Dukes, the former director of student learning and support student services in the district. 

“That was a high need, learning coping skills and addressing anxiety with kids in that age group (4th and 5th grade), so it really fit a niche," she said. "It was very well received by our community... the teachers, the parents, event the students, including the staff that delivered it.”

One of the major selling points for the program is its user friendliness.

"So it was a quick turn around to see some nice results and kids walked away with some strategies as well as teachers walked away with strategies that they could use with other kids,  not just the kids that were in that program," Dukes said. 

 Elizabeth Carnesi, a psychology junior who works as a marketer for Compass for Courage said that the company's website sets it apart. 

"The website is a lot more engaging and understandable," Carnesi said. "There’s less science jargon. Because Compass for Courage is targeted for teachers as well as school psychologists and social workers, even parents, having less science jargon is better."

User friendliness is key, because the program is really about access, Stoll said — access to information formerly confined to academic papers. 

“We have this idea, we have research behind it, we're right in a position to be able to turn it into something that people could hypothetically in the future buy off a shelf in Walgreens," Stoll said. "It's really trying to open that access.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @madisonC_arnold on Twitter.

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