Case Study Questions

Sophie is a sixth grader who attends a public middle school in a suburban setting. Just as Sophie was entering middle school, her family moved from the city to the suburbs, entailing transfer into a new school district for the children. During elementary school, Sophie had many friends with whom she played at recess and collaborated during class time. Outside of school, Sophie had some independence, as both of her parents worked long hours, leaving her alone with her older brother most afternoons. Her mother always made sure that neighbors were able to check in on her when she got home from school, but Sophie was told to remain in the apartment safeguarded from the dangers of living in the housing projects. This routine worked for Sophie, as it was all she had known her entire life. She would make herself a snack, do the worksheet her teachers gave each day for homework, and then watch TV until her parents got home. Sometimes she wished she could go to the playground, but she knew it was too dangerous to go by herself, and her brother would never agree to take her.
Sophie’s parents expected that a move to the suburbs would be a positive change as they had saved enough money to move out of the government subsidized housing and send their two children to better schools. However, Sophie did not adapt well to the changes. In school, Sophie had difficulty making new friends. All of the children she was interested in talking to and eating lunch with already had existing friendships from attending the same elementary school. She also felt that her secondhand clothing and hand-me-down backpack made her an outcast, as the other children around her had new clothes, backpacks, and lunch boxes. Sophie sometimes withdrew from peers and behaved in what her teacher described as “socially awkward ways” with the few friends she was able to make.
Sophie also experienced changes at home. Her parents still worked long hours but had longer commutes than before. When Sophie finally saw them at the end of the day, they were irritable and sometimes arguing with each other. Neither her mother nor her father was able to make it to Parent Night at school and seldom discussed academics with Sophie. The middle school curriculum was difficult for Sophie, and without help from her parents or collaboration with friends, she began to fall behind and her grades were not as high as they had been in elementary school.
Close to the end of the fall semester, Sophie’s teacher saw that Sophie was in fact eager to learn but overwhelmed by the changes of a new school and environment. She referred Sophie for a social and emotional skills group that met twice a week after school. Through this program, Sophie learned how to identify and manage her emotions, and she practiced dialogues with other students that promoted help-seeking behaviors and friendship development. By the end of sixth grade, Sophie had made two close friends from the program, and her grades in math and science had improved. She had less time home alone to ruminate on her difficulties during this transition year, and she even walked to the playground a few times and played with neighborhood kids.
In this case study, Sophie’s teacher played an integral role in making the transition from an urban elementary school to a suburban middle school a positive one. Teachers, mental health counselors, and school counselors are central in fostering the social and emotional development of children. These professionals should be trained in identifying students at risk for internalizing and externalizing behaviors that result from poor social and emotional competencies, as well as presenting programming to help them develop such competencies.
  1. Describe what you envision as “better schools” and “socially awkward” as stated in the case study. Reflect on the ways in which culture and social class may influence definitions of these phrases.
  2. Assume that Sophie’s family is economically and culturally different from the children in her new school. How could teachers promote a classroom climate that embodies inclusion and acceptance of children from diverse backgrounds? What other supports/activities outside of the school might have been helpful to Sophie in easing this transition?
  3. In this chapter we recommend a developmental systems approach for understanding how social competencies are shaped by the person, the context, and the interaction of the person and the context. Identify the person, context, and person-context interaction factors presented in the case of Sophie. What are the implications from this analysis for promoting Sophie’s social competence and the presence of healthy and effective relationships in her life? What is the importance of developmental factors in your analysis?
  4. Describe a multimodal in-school and OST intervention that you think would help improve Sophie’s social competence. Include teachers, parents, and other students as the modes of implementation. Sophie’s teacher referred her to a social skills group for children with difficulties in this area. What might be the benefits and limitations of a universal prevention program that includes all students in the class in comparison with a program designed only for students who struggle with social competencies? What concerns and recommendations might you offer to Sophie’s parents for a positive summer experience? What recommendations might you have for the types of supports that will sustain Sophie’s adaptation and success in her new school as she transitions into seventh grade?