(SALT LAKE CITY, UT) – A new University of Utah study reveals the strengths children develop from adversity. From dangerous housing and hunger to divorce and abuse, many children are forced to adapt to adverse environments. But, often they adapt so well that they find school and educational environments hard to navigate.
University of Utah professor Bruce Ellis believes those survival skills can be enhanced and even adapted to subjects like math and reading. He said, “Kids who grow up in these challenging conditions tend to fine-tune their cognitive abilities and their skills to function in those environments… If we actually try to study those skills and try to uncover them, we could use that to develop better classroom environments and think about how kids learn and how we can help them do better in school.”
Ellis says even a common classroom struggle like paying attention can be adapted. High-risk children may not pay attention for long periods of time but they’re great at rapidly switching their attention to new ideas. So, an adapted classroom would use more technology.
It will be a few years before Dr. Ellis’ research hits classrooms, but in places like the Department of Child and Family Services, some of his ideas are already being implemented.
Crystal Vail is the Adolescent Services Program Administrator. She says she agrees with the research but that it isn’t exactly groundbreaking. “I think that all along there have been teachers and educators who have picked up on this idea. So, I wouldn’t say it’s completely new, but if it can be taken from that one classroom perspective to a larger across global perspective, I think it’ll just benefit everyone” Vail said.
This kind of research has never been done in the U.S. It could affect curriculum nationally and give teachers more freedom to adapt their classes to their students.
Ellis and his team are now testing their research with the Boys and Girls Clubs here in Salt Lake before moving into traditional schools.