New Healthy Relationships Curriculum Can Support Student Well-being during and after COVID-19

FOR RELEASE: September 25, 2020

CONTACT: Mary Wallace,

As school leaders across the country consider how to best support students during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, many recognize that social and emotional learning (SEL) plays a significant role in ensuring that students and staff are equipped to deal with additional pandemic-related stress and adversity. In partnership with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights and the District of Columbia Department of Health, Child Trends has released El Camino: The Road to Healthy Relationships, an SEL curriculum for middle school students developed with direct input and collaboration from students and educators.

The 10-lesson curriculum focuses on building healthy relationships and equips youth with the skills to identify and manage strong emotions, set personal boundaries, and use assertive communication to get their needs met. The skills addressed in this curriculum are also critical for supporting youth in responding with resilience to adversity. At a time when school mental health professionals are being called upon to support students during and after the pandemic, this curriculum can be delivered by classroom teachers and other school staff without mental health training.

The El Camino: The Road to Healthy Relationships curriculum can help teens navigate a unique back-to-school season during the pandemic, especially since they may feel a significant lack of control over their situations, strong emotions and stress, and interrupted social connections. The curriculum incorporates a decision-making framework called STAR: Stop. Think. Act on your values. Reflect. The STAR framework respects teens’ ability to think and act independently by helping them identify the personal values that are most important to them and consider how those values can inform decisions they feel proud of.

The curriculum relies on an engaging storyline of characters to help teens integrate the STAR framework into their lives. The 10 lessons follow four middle school youth learning to deal with everyday challenges of adolescence, including digital and in-person interactions with peers. The lessons also include interactive, youth-driven discussions, and activities and role plays that allow youth to practice new social and emotional skills, including identifying and managing emotions, making decisions, setting personal boundaries, and communicating assertively.

Although the curriculum was designed to be delivered in-person, many of the program’s lessons can be adapted to a virtual environment. The full El Camino: The Road to Healthy Relationships curriculum is available for anyone to use at, and includes both a training manual and a recorded webinar that briefly reviews the highlights of each lesson.