The program was developed by Robert Reasoner, a superintendent in Californias' Palo Alto School District, and dr. Stanley Coopersmith, professor at the University of Los Angeles in California (UCLA) with the purpose to systematically develop self-esteem in elementary (and secondary) schools.
The Building Self-esteem program is the product of 20 years of development and field testing with its earliest beginnings in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in Walnut Creek, California. In 1971, a concerted effort was made by the staff of Bancroft School and Dr. Stanley R. Coopersmith, then Chairman of the Psychology Department of the University of California at Davis, to develop a program designed to strengthen students' self-concepts and to build intrinsic motivation without sacrificing academic excellence. Dr. Coopersmith is noted for his research on self-esteem and the development of the Coopersmith Self-esteem Inventory (CSEI) and the Behavioural Academic Self-esteem (BASE) Profile, still recognized as standard measures of self-esteem.
The effort by the school was prompted by a study on instructional priorities conducted with more than 250 schools and 5,000 parents and staff who reported that they felt self-esteem to be as significant an instructional goal as reading achievement (Reasoner, 1973). For two years the staff met weekly with Dr. Coopersmith to explore concepts and teaching strategies that would effectively result in greater motivation and positive feelings of self. As the program evolved, it began to attract over 200 visitors a year from throughout California and across the nation because of the high level of student motivation, the increased responsibility demonstrated by the students, the high interest in learning, the comparative absence of significant discipline problems, and the rise in student achievement. The school became a demonstration center for the California Early Childhood Education (ECE) program and the Center for the Study of Evaluation of the University of California at Los Angeles.
In a survey of 350 visitors to the school, 90 percent reported that the students functioned in a manner significantly different from students at other schools with which they were familiar. The most frequent comments were that the children and staff both appeared happier, more relaxed, more confident, more purposeful in their activity, and more open about themselves. Further, they functioned more independently than students from most other schools.
Evidence also suggested that the students' level of intellectual functioning, as measured by intelligence tests, increased significantly.
Follow-up studies conducted at the high school six years later demonstrated that students exposed to this program exhibited high academic achievement and increased leadership skills and motivation in the classroom.
They were also involved in fewer incidents of deviant behaviour and had set significant life goals for themselves. None of the students were found to have engaged in drug or alcohol abuse, and teachers reported that they were distinct from students of other schools because of their general level of motivation (Reasoner, 1983).
In 1976, the processes and the classroom activities found to be most effective were compiled and described in a manual prepared with grant funds from the Santa Clara County Drug Abuse Commission. Teachers in the Los Altos School District were then trained and the materials used in all fourth-grade classrooms throughout the district. As a result of the continued success and effectiveness of the program, Consulting Psychologists Press offered to publish the program, which led to the publication of the Building Self-esteem program for the kindergarten through grade eight level. Since publication in 1982, the program has been used throughout the United States with documented success. A three-year project, conducted from 1983 through 1985, was funded by the Lucile Packard Foundation to assess the program's effectiveness. The study involved three experimental schools and three control schools in three different school districts.
Results of the study demonstrated that, in comparison to students in the control schools, those students using the program materials not only felt better about themselves, but also experienced fewer social problems, were more highly motivated in the classroom, engaged in more cooperative activities with other students, and had fewer discipline problems.
Over 90 percent of the teachers reported that the program had a significant impact on the general school climate and the attitudes of the students (Reasoner & Gilbert, 1988).
In addition to the validation received from numerous teachers and administrators regarding its effectiveness, the Building Self-esteem program has also been validated by psychiatric agencies and drug rehabilitation programs for its effectiveness in building self-esteem and restoring personal functioning. The conceptual framework upon which the program is based has been recognized and used as a basis for other programs (Borba, 1989; Little, 1988). After nine years of effective use, th decision was made to prepare a comparable program for grades six through twelve, based upon the same concepts. Building Self-esteem in the Secondary Schools is the result of that decision.
This program is the product of the collaborative efforts of the authors to prepare a practical, flexible set of materials for the classroom teacher in middle or high school.
We have great confidence in the process because of the historical evidence that has been gathered. We know that it works! We believe that the ideas and activities prepared especially for this program will make it easy for any classroom teacher to implement. We hope that it will serve as a valuable resource for those interested in activities to build self-esteem in our young people.
Robert W. Reasoner, Author