VCU education researcher receives grant to improve outcomes for children with emotional, behavioral disorders

A research faculty member in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education has received a $497,000 federal grant to launch a project focused on improving outcomes of students with, or at risk for, emotional and behavioral disorders while participating in mentoring and training activities.

Kristen Granger, Ph.D., research faculty in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, is the second VCU School of Education faculty member to be awarded an early career grant from the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education in two years.

Granger’s project will focus on the friendships and experiences of socially vulnerable youth to help these students develop skills to achieve positive academic and social and behavioral outcomes. She will examine the formation, stability and quality of friendships, students’ behavioral and academic outcomes linked to these friendships, and peer and teacher factors that may influence the friendships.

The four-year project will run through 2023, and three cohorts of kindergarten through third-grade students with, or at-risk for, emotional and behavioral disorders will be recruited. Over the first three years of the project, 108 students will be recruited across 36 classrooms.

At three different points during the school year, Granger will collect data on students’ friendships, including peer rejection, group norms and social hierarchy, as well as teachers’ interactions with students, instructional practices and social awareness. Students will report on the quality of their friendships and teachers will be asked to identify students’ friend groups. Additionally, teacher-student interactions and instructional methods will be measured via direct observations of classrooms.

Lastly, students’ academic achievement will be measured through a direct examination that will then allow for an overall assessment of the relationship between friendships and educational outcomes.

With help from mentors and an advisory board of expert researchers, Granger intends to build content knowledge on friendships and experiences of socially vulnerable youth. Understanding the friendships of students with, or at-risk for, emotional and behavioral disorders and how they affect educational outcomes will allow for the development of improved methods for helping these particular students achieve academic success.