Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
Current Projects

School Mental Health Grant-Funded Research

In June 2022, the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health (formerly the Iowa Center for School Mental Health) awarded $1 million in research grants to support interventions to improve social, emotional, behavioral, or psychological outcomes in Iowa’s PreK-12 schools. Each project is two years and will run from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2024.


Project Team
  • Kerri Clopton, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, Foundations and Leadership Studies, University of Northern Iowa
  • Darcie Davis-Gage, Associate Professor and Division Chair in the University of Northern Iowa’s School of Applied Human Sciences

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the well-being of PK-12 educators. Educators found themselves at significant risk for mental health issues and many had limited access to mental health services. When educators’ wellness is compromised, they have difficulty providing the education and resources youth need to learn. This proposed project, Building a Community of Resilience: Social Emotional Learning for Educators, investigates the effectiveness of providing a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) to educators to reduce burnout, increase job satisfaction, and increase their knowledge and skills in responding to social situations in teaching. The first study evaluates the effectiveness of a one year modified MTSS system in six rural schools and one urban school. MTSS will be implemented in four schools during the 2022-2023 school year and three during the 2023-2024 school year. All schools are located in counties designated as having a shortage of mental health professionals, and they were chosen due to their needs and lack of resources. Study 2 explores the effectiveness of providing the same MTSS to three cohorts of pre-service teachers during the semester they student teach. The same measures will be used before and after the program and at follow-up. A repeated measures with waitlist control design will be used in Study 1. A repeated measures within group design with replication will be used in Study 2. The results of these two studies will inform further program development aimed at providing effective supports to school personnel.


Project Team
  • Naomi Rodgers, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Iowa
  • Philip Combiths, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Iowa, Director of Clinical Linguistics and Disparities Laboratory
  • Elizabeth Walker, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Iowa
  • Yanchen Zhang, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, University of Iowa

The proposed project, entitled “Project STIRS: SLP Training to Improve Resilience in Students with Communication Disorders,” is intended to mitigate anxiety among early elementary students who have communication disorders by maximizing their social-emotional well-being. Communication disorders are speech and language impairments that interfere with a person’s ability to express themselves and/or comprehend others. Repeated communication breakdowns due to challenges with speech sound production, stuttering, vocal quality, vocabulary, grammar, and/or pragmatics can lead to feelings of frustration and anxiety about future interactions. In this two-year randomized controlled trial beginning in July 2022, the interdisciplinary research and advisory team will develop and deliver a case-based resilience training to school speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in four eastern Iowa AEAs. These trainings will focus on two domains of resilience that are rapidly developing and malleable during the early elementary years: self-awareness (e.g., growth mindset, self-efficacy) and self-management (e.g., emotion regulation, motivation). These two domains are of particular importance for maneuvering communicative adversity and within 5-8-year-olds’ zone of proximal development. Training effects will be evaluated using pre-/post-training measures administered to participating SLPs and a selection of their K-3 students who have IEPs focused on speech/language goals. The anticipated outcomes for the SLPs are improved awareness, knowledge, and competency of self-awareness and self-management needs and supports for students with communication disorders as measured immediately before and after the STIRS training. The K-3 students with communication disorders are expected to show improvements in therapy engagement, communication attitudes, and anxiety symptoms as measured immediately after training and three months later.


Project Team
  • Ashley Scudder, Research Scientist, Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute in Human Development and Family Studies Department, Iowa State University
  • Richard Spoth, Director of the Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute, Iowa State University

The prevalence of behavioral health problems among elementary students has escalated during the pandemic, especially in underserved, rural schools, where there is limited accessibility to evidence- based (EB) behavioral health and resilience-oriented interventions. This pilot study advances strategic solutions by examining implementation of two multicomponent interventions. The first universal, multicomponent intervention draws upon a NIH-funded program of research on the PROSPER Partnership Delivery System for community- school teams implementing evidence-based school and family interventions. In this project a community-school team will support sustained implementation of teacher consultation with the Classroom Check-up, for all students at all risk-levels. The second multicomponent intervention adds an EB family program (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, PCIT) targeting students at highest risk for poor behavioral and academic outcomes. Although both multicomponent interventions are expected to show positive outcomes (PK-2nd grade), the multicomponent approach with PCIT is hypothesized to show stronger outcomes. Following the preventive intervention development model for behavioral disorders promoted by the Institute of Medicine-National Research Council (2009), this pilot study will set the stage for a randomized-controlled trial of intervention efficacy. It has two aims: (1) conduct an exploratory comparative evaluation of teacher/classroom outcomes (e.g., teacher-student interactions, teacher burnout, professional sense of efficacy) and student outcomes (e.g., academic performance, engagement, and disruptive behaviors) and (2) conduct an implementation process evaluation of observed multicomponent intervention implementation fidelity and key implementer perceptions of intervention acceptability and feasibility, including comparisons with previously established implementation standards and a descriptive analysis of changes in perceptions over time.


Project Team
  • Gregory Welk, Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Iowa State University Spyridoula Vazou, Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Iowa State University
  • Spyridoula Vazou, Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Iowa State University
  • Laura Liecthy, Program leader in the 4-H Extension and Outreach Division of Youth Development, Iowa State University
  • Philip Dixon, Professor, Department of Statistics, Iowa State University

Schools play a crucial role in promoting and nurturing mental health of students, but little attention has been given to support the staff and teachers. The proposed study addresses this fundamental need by synergistically promoting staff and student well-being through the SWITCH (School Wellness Integration Targeting Child Health) initiative. The evidence-based SWITCH process has documented utility for building capacity in schools to promote healthy lifestyles in youth and it is delivered across the state through the distributed 4-H network coordinated by ISU Extension and Outreach program ( The SWITCH program currently incorporates training on social and emotional learning (SEL) as a resource to schools as they support students. In the proposed study, we will partner with the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative to expand our SEL work to include staff wellness programming integrating the ‘Make It OK’ community campaign to reduce stigma about mental illness. Building on 4-H expertise with positive youth development, we will also expand our youth ambassador model to build and test strategies to promote greater awareness and school-system change to support mental health programming in youth. The omnibus hypothesis is that mental health programming and wellness outcomes in youth can be enhanced when school staff are also supported. We will evaluate this hypothesis using established implementation science methods that have been used to develop and refine other elements of the existing SWITCH initiative. The key advantage of the project is that it provides an impactful, expandable and sustainable model to build capacity for schools to support mental health outcomes of both students and staff.