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Lake Forest Pilots App Technology to Aid Student Well-Being

Lake Bluff resident provides technical guidance in developing "Thrive".

will be one of three north suburban pilot locations for a new wellness cellphone application called Thrive when it debuts in April.

Joining Lake Forest will be Barrington and New Trier high schools in using a wellness “app” that allows students use their iPhone, iTouch or iPad to measure and track the stressors and actions that affect behavior and mood.

Thrive was developed by the Cheryl T. Herman Foundation, led by Foundation Trustee Dr. John Zajecka, clinical director of the Depression Treatment and Research Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Technical assistance came from Lake Bluff resident Steve Murray.

Thrive builds on the concept and effectiveness of the CTH Mood Tracker, another app the foundation developed with the University of Notre Dame, that helps individuals track and manage daily mood and behavior, and monitor depression or bipolar disorder. Launched in July 2011, CTH Mood Tracker already has more than 8,000 subscribers.

“Schools today recognize the direct correlation between student social and emotional skills and academic success,” explained Murray. “More importantly, they recognize the need for our kids to develop resiliency skills not only for their high school years, but their lifetime.”

Thrive is intended to give students another “tool in the toolbox,” and builds on the social and emotional learning stressed in the high school curriculum, according to Murray. The hope is that students will respond to the program, in part, because of the technology component.

“From what we’ve seen, Thrive is a great way to get current information back to the student,” said John Maher, a dean who is spearheading the pilot. “Whether a student is talking with a professional, or just wants to get a sense for how his feelings compare to his peers, he can see how things like school stress or lack of sleep can directly affect emotional health and get resiliency strategies.”

Thrive will be piloted by 200 to 300 students per school through the health and advisory programs, and downloaded through iTunes to any iPhone, iTouch or iPad. intends to incorporate Thrive into its freshman health curriculum. New Trier also will extend the program to a number of teachers.

How Thrive Works

Any student who enrolls is ensured anonymity, and is asked to provide his/her gender, grade and school code. Each student is given a user ID and will be asked to create a password for security and confidentiality.

Each day, the user will be asked to answer a series of questions specific to the issues faced by high schoolers and measure things like time management, screen time, mood, homework, bullying, goal-setting, relationships, drugs, alcohol and caffeine. Thrive also will track behaviors that extend beyond the school environment and affect student mood, including sleep patterns, stress at home, and too much to do.

Through these measurements, students can gauge their response to health issues like depression, eating disorders and substance abuse, as well as social issues including bullying and relationships. They also can account for stresses all too common to North Shore teenagers, including academic stress and overcommitted schedules.

Very quickly, Thrive builds a personal and confidential profile for the student, going beyond simply tracking moods and behavior to providing evidence-based coping strategies, messages and tips specific to the student’s needs using push notification technology.

For example, one student may be pushed tips on body image or time management tips, another strategies to deal with bullying or depression. The experience is completely personal and confidential. In addition, the app will track the events affecting other students’ moods, giving kids an opportunity to gain perspective on how “normal” their experience is.

Because the app offers this personalized yet anonymous feedback, the hope is that students can avoid the stigmas associated with asking for help and embolden teens to take those courageous first steps. Local resources will be provided in the app, filtered by geographic proximity to the student’s home school.

“Unfortunately there is no road map for students or parents on how to navigate the adolescent years,” said Murray. “We believe that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So our goal is to give kids a tool to keep track of how this multitude of changes affects mood and behavior and not feel so distanced or alone in the process.”

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