New Tier 1 Program to Help Students in Grades K-8 Take Charge of Their Mental Wellbeing and School Success

by The EmpowerU Team on August 17, 2021

(August 17, 2021—Minneapolis, MN) As data becomes clear that the pandemic will have long-lasting effects on youth mental health, EmpowerU has expanded its evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) services to schools with a nationwide rollout of a Tier 1 (universal) elementary and middle school curriculum designed to teach student resilience and confidence in kindergarten through eighth grade. EmpowerU’s new Tier 1 program is the result of 16 months of development and testing.

“Last year took a toll on students, teachers, families and schools,” said Katie Dorn, MA, LSC, MFT, EmpowerU’s founder and licensed school counselor and family therapist. “As we begin this year, it’s become very clear that the uncertainty is not over. Students are going to need more skills and support to manage the ongoing pandemic stress and become engaged learners for the year ahead — and schools need a solution that is affordable and quick to start. That’s exactly what EmpowerU is designed to do.”

Based on her experience working as a school counselor and interest in data-driven SEL, Dorn and her team designed the new Tier 1 curriculum for schools and districts to launch quickly and implement for measurable and lasting results. 

Offered as a Tier 1 approach for all students in grades K-8, EmpowerU’s new program is a true plug-and-play solution with lasting benefits. Teachers simply follow along on the EmpowerU platform to begin each lesson, and students cement their learning through individual reflection using EmpowerU’s intentional journaling prompts. 

”When there is so much going on in a student’s life and the world around them, they can feel a real loss of control,” says Kelly Curtis, elementary school counselor and recipient of the 2021 Wisconsin Equity in Action Award. “EmpowerU helps students of all ages realize — no matter what happens around them — that they absolutely can learn to control their thinking and the way they handle their emotions. Students gain confidence by learning the skills to do just that.”

The EmpowerU SEL program for elementary students features Charge™, a lovably fuzzy character representing each person’s internal locus of control. When students learn how to tap into their internal locus of control, they acquire skills to help them navigate difficult times in positive, healthy ways. 

Elementary grade teachers using EmpowerU’s Tier 1 program receive:

  • Plug and play classroom lessons with videos starring “Charge™” working through different emotions for whole-class activities
  • Booklets for grades K-2 that use a storybook to prompt reflection and writing
  • Journals for grades 3-5 that use application scenarios to prompt reflection and writing
  • Daily 1-2 minute video and or audio skill-building exercises that reinforce calming tools in morning meetings
  • Classroom posters to extend lessons for growth 
  • A Charge™ stuffed toy for classroom use

“We knew our elementary program needed to make sense in the day-to-day routine of the classroom,” Dorn said. “The last thing teachers need is one more thing to learn, prep and execute in their day. That’s why we’ve made natural use of morning meeting times, whole-class work, pair-share activities and writing for personal reflection. And we scripted each prompt and activity on the portal to genuinely minimize teacher prep, increase the teacher’s natural confidence in delivery and maximize lasting results with fidelity of implementation.” 

Dorn said the Tier 1 program for grades 6-8 also was developed to work inside the natural school day routines for middle school students, with learning activities tailored to engage and support students in early adolescence and follow a similar delivery model.

Streamlined training for participating teachers supports a quick start-up for any school or district. One 30-minute online training session is followed by 10-15 minutes of self-guided learning that unlocks the teacher’s access to the classroom lessons. 

A six-week SEL intervention course for Tier 2 is also available for students in grades 3-8 who need more personalized support than the Tier 1 program offers in the daily schedule. Tier 2 students benefit from individual activities the student completes online, as well as daily support from a highly trained counselor and EmpowerU coach. This intervention targets individual growth in key goal areas to help a student go from struggling with adversity or triggers to understanding  how to use self direction for resilience and confidence. 

“What we know from the data is that social-emotional skills can’t just be taught,” Dorn said. “A curriculum with lessons isn’t enough. For schools to get lasting results from SEL investments, students must be prompted to apply and experience the skills they’ve learned, in order to internalize them. EmpowerU is the only evidence-based SEL program designed to move a student’s understanding from head to heart.”

In addition to the new Tier 1 curriculum for grades K-8 and the Tier 2 intervention for grades 3-5, EmpowerU has offered a course for Tier 2 students in middle and high school since 2018. All EmpowerU programs use four evidence-based elements to help students move from a place of discouragement, avoidance and disengagement to confidence, resilience, persistence and success. These form the foundation of EmpowerU’s work to help schools prioritize student motivation and mental health during the coming school year.

  • 1:1 personalized support
  • Daily engaging content
  • Comprehensive and robust
  • Accessible and equitable

EmpowerU’s approach helps schools scale their mental health services according to student needs and counseling capacity. EmpowerU’s approach is aligned with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and National Health and Wellness standards and measures student growth using the Prochaska/DiClemente Transtheoretical Model of Change.

Independent evaluation of the EmpowerU’s Tier 2 program for grades 6-12 that launched in 2017 shows:

  • More than 93% of students who complete EmpowerU make a dramatic shift from discouragement and anxiety to improved wellbeing, motivation and hope.
  • More than 88% of students complete the program, compared to completion rates of 5-30% in other programs.
  • More than 98.5% of students would recommend EmpowerU to a friend or classmate.


About Empower U

EmpowerU’s highly personalized, online SEL program helps young people replace anxiety and depression with resilience and confidence, fueling student transformation without a heavy lift on staff or need for additional hires. The program provides each student with interactive lessons and personalized coaching, pairing technology with brain research in a unique way that supports students and empowers their growth. Multi-year data makes it clear: nobody understands Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and approaches SEL the way EmpowerU does.

Learn more about EmpowerU by attending one of our upcoming webinars for Elementary or Middle School. Click here to see all webinar offerings.

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