REVERE Award Winner Profile: The Dibble Institute

Winning product name: Relationship Smarts PLUS 3.0

Winning product company: The Dibble Institute

Kay Reed, Director of The Dibble Institute, answered a series of questions about this resource, the 2014 Distinguished Achievement winner in the Supplemental Resources subcategory of Life Skills and Character Education (now the Social-Emotional and Character Learning subcategory of the REVERE Awards for the Classroom). Relationship Smarts PLUS allows youth and their peers, parents, and other adults the opportunity for honest dialogue and learning about healthy relationships, allowing learners to build skills that will empower them to make smart, positive choices throughout their lives. 

The Inspiration: [Relationship Smarts PLUS] was created to respond to a missing piece in helping youth succeed. While teenagers are offered sex education, drug education, pregnancy/STI prevention, and dating violence programs, there was little to nothing on the important context for addressing these issues—namely relationships. Possessing knowledge and skills for navigating the world of romantic youthful relationships will have a strong bearing on youth’s behaviors and choices. This comprehensive and skill-based relationship program is an asset-building approach to positive youth development.

The Audience: [This resource’s audience is] all youth, and especially diverse (including LGBTQ) and disadvantaged youth, who may not have models of healthy relationships in their lives. There is a special emphasis on building skills for healthy relationships—something youth rarely receive.  Youth have fewer models today of healthy and stable relationships and fewer guides for navigating the terrain of romantic relationships.  Yet, how well or poorly they do this will have a bearing on their futures.

Development Process and Challenges: The author [Marline Pearson] has the benefit of working daily with young adults (18-24), and recruited many of them to write real-life scenarios for the activities that lace the program. The author was able to pilot sets of lessons with teens in diverse settings ranging from public school health and science classes (from college prep to the highest at-risk students) to juvenile corrections to youth development programs for youth in the community. We were also able to adapt the communication and conflict management skills from the leading relationship and marriage skills programs for adult couples, notably the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP, University of Denver), to teens.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle overall is the difficulty of breaking out of the reigning paradigm in which much of teen prevention operates. Most attention is given to “what to avoid” and a health-based framework (bio-reproduction, risks, and protections) for sex education and pregnancy/STI prevention. Getting the institutional “gatekeepers” to open up to a more holistic and comprehensive approach that embeds sexuality education and prevention in a skills-based relationship education approach is the challenge. Educators and youth workers on the ground tend to embrace this approach almost immediately, but the institutional framework is set towards addressing teens in a narrow health paradigm.

The Unsung Heroes: The many young people who have shared their stories and their dreams with the author and who have taken the time to contribute poetry, narratives, and scenarios to this curriculum to help their younger sisters and brothers do better are the unsung heroes behind this project.

The Feedback: It is gratifying to hear young people say how valuable this is to them and how this is the first time they’ve had a program that speaks to their aspirations, helps them think deeply about their values, addresses what a healthy relationship should be (and how to tell), and helps them gain skills and knowledge to make better choices and have better relationships.

Real life examples:

  • When a kid says he’s gone home and used the Speaker-Listener Technique with a parent and reports it’s the first decent conversation they’ve had in years.
  • When a student comes back and says, “My mom wants to take this course.”
  • The best feeling comes when witnessing a young person raising their bar for how they will be treated, when they leave a destructive relationship, or when they say “I’m going slower and doing things differently next time…. I’m not sliding!”
  • When a teacher/facilitator says, “This is just as useful for me, too, in my relationship.”

Learn more about Relationship Smarts PLUS 3.0 and other offerings from The Dibble Institute website.