The Be Hope App
The “ Be Hope” Cell Phone App -
Supporting Social and Emotional Learning for School Students Everywhere
What is the Be Hope App and why is it needed?
The Be Hope App is a cell phone application that makes social and emotional learning (SEL) universally available to schools and students to support improved academic performance and to mitigate stress, depression, and behavioral problems. Unlike existing social and emotional learning methods, the application imposes almost no burden on teachers and supports students around the clock not only at school but also at home. Although SEL is always a highly desirable part of the school curriculum, support for it now is needed acutely in the wake of the covid crisis, which is leaving students isolated, stressed, prone to depression, and with poor academic focus. As you will see below, the App has been developed through a highly coordinated volunteer effort and distribution of the app will be on a not-for profit basis, making it available to school districts and schools everywhere.
Birth of the “Be-Hope” idea
Members of Sharpstown Rotary Club volunteered in support of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) at Sugar Grove Academy given by Be the Peace – Be the Hope, a branch of the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts charity. Be the Peace – Be the Hope has a proven track record over many years of providing successful SEL support to Title 1 schools in the Houston area.  Last year, Sharpstown Rotary also teamed up with Be the Peace – Be the Hope to create a novel Interact Club at Sugar Grove Academy for at-risk children that featured social and emotional learning principles as an integral part of its activities in an after-school program.  These in-person programs for both SEL and Interact were disrupted by the Covid 19 pandemic. Discussions ensued on the District 5890 Peace Committee about how to support and expand this highly successful social and emotional learning curriculum in conditions of social isolation.  Realizing that every child today has a cell phone as a constant companion, the idea of bringing the social and emotional learning curriculum and social activities to their fingertips through a cell phone App was born.
The Collaboration
To realize the dream of a cell phone app for school students, three magic ingredients were needed, namely new media content suitable for a young audience to access by phone, programming skills to create a youth-friendly application that would run on all types of cell phones, tablets and computers, and logistical and financial support to cover the costs of software and computer server resources.  These ingredients were provided by a well-coordinated effort of collaboration among charitable organization and volunteers:
Be the Peace – Be the Hope, founder and director Karine Parker of Houston International Rotary Club, and Irene Greaves, founder and director of another charity Lovescaping worked with student volunteers and a student panel to create the content, while Sharpstown Rotary club members together with another volunteer, Rusty Stone, developed the prototype Be Hope App, and underwrote the resources.  Dakota Stormer of the Rotary Club of Magnolia and CEO of FOOTPRINT, LLC, provided the software development platform and server resources needed. Finally, once the prototype Be Hope was successfully running and demonstrated, Rotary District 5890 came forward with funds to port the application to a commercial platform able to support unlimited student and school numbers in English and Spanish.
More in-depth details about SEL  
More than two decades of research has demonstrated the positive academic, social, and emotional benefits of embedding social and emotional learning (SEL) into the school curriculum [1]. Measured objectively through 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, SEL auxiliary curricula designed around the CASEL’s [2] five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points; improved classroom behavior; increased ability to manage stress and depression; and enhanced student’s self-image and attitudes about themselves, others, and school, compared to students whose curriculums did not include SEL [3].  SEL has been identified as an effective tool to mitigate social conditions and attitudes that lead to depression, substance abuse, violence, risky sex, and social interaction problems [4].  Furthermore, SEL participation has been demonstrated to decrease physical aggression in schools by 42%.  As a result, school districts around the world are increasingly emphasizing SEL for inclusion in the curriculum, especially for at risk schools where socio-economic and other societal factors promote dysfunctional conditions for young people’s development. 
Given that schools are “the de facto mental health system for many children and adolescents,” providing mental health services to 57 percent of adolescents who need care [5, 6], it is not surprising that the disruption of routine school activities accompanying the Covid 19 pandemic has seriously exacerbated existing problems of depression, anxiety, socialization, communication and academic participation in schools. Both students and teachers report experiencing feelings of isolation, depression, sadness, anxiety and of being overwhelmed [7-9]. Tragically, suicide has also increased [10].  Making SEL available to students has been emphasized as an important tool for mitigating this dispiriting crisis [11,12].  A central problem in realizing access to SEL during a time in which schools and teachers are already stretched to their limits, however, is that conventional SEL curricula demand school resources and, even more problematically, additional teacher time.  Therefore, as much as schools may desire to add SEL into their programs to help students weather the current crisis, new approaches are needed to deliver the required SEL support and communications conveniently using existing resources as much as possible and without significantly increasing the burden placed on teachers.
The Be Hope App program aims to provide a solution to this problem of making SEL universally available to schools and students in a low-burden format through a new cell phone application that we have developed.  All students carry phones, which are convenient and familiar tools through which SEL resources and communications can be made available.  Unlike school-bound SEL curriculums where the students have access to SEL support only at school and during the day, the phone is present whether students are at school or at home and regardless of the time of day or night.  Therefore, the app is designed to be a constant companion, supplementing school and teacher interactions, and, additionally, to act as a link to additional external SEL resources. If, sadly, crisis support becomes necessary, that too is privately at hand 24 hours a day through the hone app.  Through moderated postings online to other students, the app will also help school counsellors identify when supportive interventions may be desirable.
What does the Be Hope App do?
Be Hope is an App that places SEL resources in the pocket of students for use 24 hours a day at school or at home as needed.  It runs on iPhone, Android, Microsoft, iPad, laptops, and desktop PCs. Most users access it via their cell phones (shown above).  The App provides a colorful interface to interactive SEL content including exercises, activities, and movies as well as approved external materials.  It includes moderated sections where students can share their experiences, positive news of overcoming challenges, and community work, and they can also keep their own private diary. Lastly, there is a crisis area that has been developed in cooperation with mental health practitioners where students can be guided to receive help, if necessary.  While the presentation materials are based on a rigorous SEL curriculum that has been developed and tested for over five years by BTPBTH in several schools in conjunction with psychologists and teachers, the presentation styling for the Be Hope App was developed in consultation with students and, indeed, appropriate segments have been produced with student actors and using student artwork.  This provides a teen-friendly look and feel.  Although the App addresses different core curriculum components of SEL based on CASEL specifications and can be worked through like a structured curriculum, students can jump to any area they like according to the needs of the moment.  For example, if a student is feeling stressed, breathing and other stress relief exercises may be accessed immediately; if the student feels overwhelmed, resilience exercises can be used; if the student is angry then there are anger management exercises, etc.  The App is bilingual (English and Spanish) and the content available to a student is customized by grade level to make it age appropriate.  To understand how the App can be so adaptable, it is helpful to consider it as a viewer of content that draws only user-appropriate content from a data library:
Using this method, the materials presented to the user in the Be Hope App may be customized to accommodate many situations such as school-specific or school-district-specific content or different languages. Most significantly, this implementation allows new content to be added for users without the need to change the App itself.
Cited Publications
[1] Handbook of social and emotional learning: Research and practice pp. 3–19 (2015)
[2] Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional Learning’s
[3] Child Development Vol. 82(1), pp405-432 (2011)]
[4] [Journal of School Health vol 70(5) pp179-85 (2000)]
[5] Journal of the American Medical Association - Pediatrics vol. 174(9) pp 819-820 (2020)
[6] World Medical & Health Policy Special Issue: Symposium on Coronavirus 2019: Social Determinants, Disparities, and Impacts 12:3 pp. 300-310 (2020)],
[7] Psychiatric Times Vol 37, Issue 10, (October 7th, 2020); 
[8] Psychiatry Res. 2020 Nov; 293: 113429
[9]  American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology Vol. 51(5), p 52 (2020)]
[10] BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 12 November 2020)
[11] Education Week, Sept 02 (2020)
[12] Education Week, Nov 20 (2020)