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Marty MacDonald, a market research consultant in Leipzig, Germany, visited Denver and interviewed BrainWise Instructors to find out what they think about ways to expand the program, strategies to use social media to promote it, and designs for a one-page problem solving worksheet. The ten participants included a wide range of users, from elementary and high school instructors and principals to program directors.

The findings were overwhelmingly positive – BrainWise is key to developing skills that last a lifetime, is valuable because it is simple enough for kindergartners to grasp but sophisticated enough for adults, and gives individuals tools to respond positively to their problems and challenges. Improvements to the program include creation of a shorter version of the program for intensive training, which will be addressed by the BrainWise CPR version, and offering more guidance on ways too implement and reinforce the program.

The reaction to BrainWise CPR and its companion one-page worksheet was enthusiastic. Instructors said that helping participants apply the 10 Wise Ways to immediate, real-life problems was critical for retention. Teachers urged marketing BrainWise to parents and involving them in reinforcing the concepts.

Suggestions on training and promotion include:

– Help instructors incorporate the 10 Wise Ways into what the already use successfully.
– Offer BrainWise workshops for parents before PTA meetings
– Provide parents with BrainWise terminology sheets and activities
– Emphasize the value of BrainWise as a resource that makes a positive difference with little effort

 

The common language of BrainWise, otherwise known as the Ten Wise Ways, helps create a small culture in which coaching and mentoring can have an important impact on group dynamics, according to Matt Sena, a master BrainWise instructor and Community and Family Services Division Program Manager for Chugachmiut, Inc., in Anchorage, Alaska. Sena calls BrainWise “the most powerful doorway that I have found” for affecting peer and family dynamics.

Sena has taught BrainWise to adolescents and families since 1998, when he held a dual position as alternative education and vocational counselor for a dropout retrieval school in Grand Junction, Colorado. A colleague there had a copy of “Positive Life Choices,” an early version of the current BrainWise curriculum, which Sena began to use. He went through the lessons, and was able to teach himself, although he later received formal training through BrainWise founder and director Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry. Sena found immediate results in both the individual learning and groups he facilitated. “These were alternative students who had already dropped out, so they had a hard time with school and paying attention; but they were really working with me on BrainWise, following it, staying involved and reaping good benefits,” Sena explained. “My goal was to get them to move back into their area high school and be successful. Now, when I go back to Grand Junction, I still run into them and it is great to see they have succeeded in life.”

According to Sena, BrainWise is one of the most popular youth interventions that Chugachmiut, Inc., a tribal organization representing the Chugach native peoples of Alaska, employs. “Everybody we work with in the local communities has had exposure to BrainWise. We work with other public health initiatives too, and often combine strategies, but with BrainWise, people clearly understand the terminology.” For example, Sena explains that when he teaches about suicide prevention, youth and community members “get,” and retain, the term “Red Flag Warning” when referring to cues they would look for in suicidal individuals.

A consistent challenge for Sena as a practitioner in a community environment is to come up with strategies for adolescents from difficult home situations. As opposed to counseling adolescents in a group home environment that is highly structured, Sena works with young men whose family situations may not provide adequate support. “If you can create a small culture and have positive male role models, then that’s great. But, we don’t always have that,” Sena said. “I have a small circle of Alaska native boys who live in a mobile home park. There is no room indoors, so they are sent outside to hang out in a pack. I look at that as an opportunity to get them together and teach them some Wise Ways so they have skills to think through things on their own. The key is to positively affect peer dynamics so that the coaching and mentoring influences come through their natural peer group.”

In his work with families, Sena sees many types of struggles, including suicide, neglect, child abuse, and domestic violence. He points to a lack of relationship skills as a common thread to many of these challenges. Last summer, Sena handled a case in which the court had mandated separation of a father from his family due to charges of physical abuse and alcohol abuse. According to Sena, “This was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. This family wanted to do well and be together, but they needed a vehicle to help them through.” With the family in his office, Sena observed the father’s frustration as his four children ages 3, 4, 5 and 8 began crawling under the sofas and being disruptive. “Their current relationship methods were unsuccessful, and they had to reinvent some strategies to change that,” Sena explained. “I needed to provide information that was relevant to a huge range of ages. BrainWise provided a really good way to integrate so many different intellectual levels in the room.” Over a course of several sessions, Sena worked with the family using the Ten Wise Ways as a structure for building relationship skills. According to Sena, “After learning the Wise Ways skills, they could use language to work through their issues.”

Sena credits BrainWise as being “really beneficial in my work with families. I think BrainWise is a very solid approach to doing prevention strategies not just with youth, but across the board. The Wise Ways work really well and you can customize them to the interests and needs of your community. Here in Alaska, a prevention strategy needs to be adaptable for an intergenerational population. BrainWise excels as that type of approach.”

BrainWise founder and director Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry presented the keynote address at a conference hosted by the Alaska Center for Resource Families and the Alaska Department of Public Health Office of Children’s Services. The conference, attended by 270 foster families, was held April 5-7 in Anchorage, Alaska.

In her remarks, Dr. Barry related the success of BrainWise in helping young people improve thinking and decision making skills. Dr. Barry offered advice to foster families on how to utilize BrainWise as a resource for raising children of all ages who have been relinquished by court order, especially those with disabilities such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder.

Following her keynote speech, Dr. Barry conducted two well-attended workshops on BrainWise thinking skills. During the first workshop, Dr. Barry provided an introduction to the BrainWise Program and covered Wise Ways 1-8. A second workshop focused on Wise Ways 9-10, and utilized role-play for reinforcement of the skills. A highlight of the second workshop was a conference call from nursing supervisor Rebecca Persing and visiting nurse Armando Reyes of Jefferson County, Colorado, who have been instrumental in incorporating BrainWise skills into home visits with low income women and their families.

BrainWise has been taught in Alaska since 1998 according to Matt Sena, a master BrainWise instructor and Fatherhood Program manager for Chugachmiut Inc. in Anchorage. Sena has trained and supported Alaska Native leaders to use the 10 Wise Ways to help youth and families living in rural tribal village learn sound decision making skills.

In 2006, Sena invited Dr. Barry to conduct a BrainWise workshop in Anchorage with the Alaska Native group, the Chugachmiut, which trained 18 community members to become BrainWise instructors. Sena reports that BrainWise has been taught in every community that he and his team members work with in the peninsula southwest of Anchorage. Currently, Sena is writing a doctoral dissertation on using Avatars to help teach and reinforce BrainWise thinking skills.

Testimonials praising the BrainWise Program continue to arrive. A public health nurse from Jefferson County recently shared some very positive experiences from incorporating BrainWise thinking skills into his home visits with low income clients.

Armando Reyes is one of several public health nurses who collaborate with Jefferson County Human Services to provide in-home care, individualized consultation, education and psychosocial support to low income women and their families. Reyes represents a program that focuses on preventive healthcare, offers referrals to appropriate healthcare providers or services, and helps clients choose sound, health-related behaviors.

BrainWise founder and director Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry recently received the following comments from Reyes:

“BrainWise delivery is going great! It remains the primary intervention with our clients and I cannot say enough about its effectiveness and usefulness in helping our clients make healthier choices. I am becoming more familiar with other curriculums (Partners in Parenting intervention, Making Parenting a Pleasure) and I have been using BrainWise concepts as a means to reinforce certain tools addressed in those curriculums. I have to say that without BrainWise, it would be more difficult for parents to grasp specific concepts, apply them to parenting and other relationships, and have better outcomes.

“I am teaching a client that last part of Wise Way # 10 tomorrow and in our time together, I have seen great progress in her ability to make healthier choices with parenting (she yells less and uses positive parenting tools), she is able to talk to her case worker without becoming defensive or explosive, and is starting to use ‘I’ statements to advocate for herself when talking with her husband. Needless to say, BrainWise implementation is going great and we are seeing some positive outcomes.”

For caregivers such as Reyes, BrainWise is becoming a significant resource to teach clients to become self-sufficient through improvement of life skills, social resources, health habits and child care skills.

Sobesky Academy principal Connie Sperberg oversees a highly trained staff of experienced professional and paraprofessional teachers who provide emotional, behavioral and academic support to students in grades 1-12. Sperberg discovered the BrainWise Program through other teachers in the district. Enthusiastic about the compatibility of the BrainWise curriculum with Sobesky’s program, and encouraged that BrainWise was being taught in other Jefferson County Public Schools, Sperberg purchased curricula for all Sobesky teachers and therapists. Training was provided for the school’s faculty and staff.

Teachers and therapists offered a number of suggestions to implement the BrainWise curriculum at the school, including introducing a new BrainWise concept to the students each Monday. They also discussed using BrainWise terms daily by integrating the 10 Wise Ways into classroom lessons and the school culture, and talked about ways to involve parents. The faculty demonstrated an understanding of the concepts by applying the 10 Wise Ways to examples in current events and articles on challenging behaviors of students.

Questions included, “What is the best way to teach the program? Do you teach each concept until you are confident the students know it, or do you present all 10 Wise Ways and then have students practice and use them?” BrainWise founder and director Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry acknowledged that teachers use different approaches, but supported giving students an overview of all the concepts first. “Many teachable moments involve higher level thinking skills, and it is important that the student is familiar with all the Wise Ways so he or she can learn how to assess and analyze a problem,” she said.

The school’s commitment to teaching the program with fidelity will have a positive impact on Sobesky students. “When there is support from the top, and a plan in place to reinforce BrainWise skills and terminology on a regular basis, we have seen great results,” Dr. Barry said.

Parental participation is a vital component of the Sobesky program’s success. The school looks for parent involvement through parent support groups, participation in counseling, and through support of the educational and therapeutic program. Parents will be invited to help implement the BrainWise curricula as well. Sperberg plans to introduce BrainWise at parent orientation; then continue to keep parents involved through school newsletters and student homework assignments.

As Sobesky students work to develop skills that will allow them to be successful learners, BrainWise can play an integral part in their emotional and behavioral growth. According to Dr. Barry, “BrainWise is a perfect fit for schools that emphasize emotional and behavioral development. It teaches about the brain, and shows students how positive behaviors build brain connections, helping them learn to stop and think before they react.

The BrainWise Program is helping Jefferson County Public Health nurses maximize patient care and improve outcomes for a wide variety of client issues. The public health nurses, in collaboration with Jefferson County Human Services, provide in-home care such as individualized consultation, education and psychosocial support to low income women and their families. The focus is on preventive healthcare, referral to appropriate healthcare providers or services, and assisting clients with choosing sound health-related behaviors. The agencies are looking to BrainWise as the primary intervention for this initiative, which aims to make clients self-sufficient through improvement of life skills, social resources, health habits and child care skills.

When making home visits to a TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or Child Welfare client, for example, a visiting nurse can use the 10 Wise Ways to frame the discussion regarding the client’s network of support, wizard or lizard brain choices, red flag warnings, emotions elevator or other BrainWise concepts. According to Rebecca Persing, RN, DNP, “These tools will help the nurses provide adults and children with thinking skills and resources to solve problems and function adaptively in family, school, work, and community contexts.”

Future plans call for expansion of this collaborative effort to include providing resources for nurses to send text messages customized for each client. In addition to reinforcing the practice and use of BrainWise thinking skills, texting is expected to help keep expenses down and maximize nurse contact with clients. Clients’ knowledge of BrainWise skills and confidence in that knowledge will be assessed using an online program called Confidence-Based Learning (CBL). Evaluation of the program will be completed by two educational psychology professors from the University of Northern Colorado who will be using pre-and posttest assessments.

BrainWise founder Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry is optimistic about the future of this effort, and its adaptability to other programs. “If BrainWise thinking skills can be evaluated, and eventually delivered using CBL technology and text message follow up to improve at-risk family issues, this system could be utilized as part of an intervention for similar families and applied to other high-risk behaviors,” Dr. Barry said.

The link at the bottom of this blog entry will take you to the Fort Morgan Times web site where BrainWise instructor and teacher, Christine Cerbana was featured.  Her presence at the March 7th class, offered courtesy of the Morgan County Family Center, will be a plus for those in attendance.

Here is a snippet from the arcticle:

“How to Be BrainWise” covers how problem-solving skills are important in the development of resilient children. Participants will learn about the Ten Wise Ways of Brainwise and understand how problem solving is related to behavior management.

Christine Cerbana, parent education coordinator for Colorado State University Extension, will present the program at the Morgan County Extension Center, 914 E. Railroad in Fort Morgan. Each program in the series is approved for three clock hours for child care licensure renewal.”

Chrisitine heads the Partners in Parenting program at CSU.  This should be a great session!

http://www.fortmorgantimes.com/news/2009/feb/24/child-care-brainwise-program-slated-march-7/