Students Teaching Attitudes of Respect (STAR): A Social Emotional Program Where Kids are the Teachers!

What if youth felt equipped and empowered to teach social emotional learning skills to other youth?

Photo of Barb Houg
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Sue Liedl had been working for 20 years with "youth-at-risk" when she woke up one night and realized that she was going to quit her job as county social worker and start working upstream. She wanted to develop something so that fewer kids ended up with the kinds of issues that she was seeing every day. She recognized that all of our kids are "at risk" in some way, but that if we give them more skills to navigate the world cooperatively and compassionately, we will all be better off. So she volunteered to begin teaching “conflict management” skills in her children’s school. She pulled together resources and created many of her own. The community noticed. She was asked by the sheriff’s department to do a presentation on how to de-escalate a conflict. She brought in a team of 3rd graders who had been learning communication skills to teach a 40-minute lesson on “I-statements” and other techniques. The officers were quickly engaged with this group of young teachers. The youth loved and learned from the experience and that’s how STAR was born! A local foundation (Northwest MN Foundation) heard about Sue's work and asked her to design a program that could be used in schools in the foundation's 12-country region. She and a team developed Students Teaching Attitudes of Respect, a program in which 6th and 7th grade students learned various social emotional skills and were taught how to present those skills to their peers, younger children and to community groups.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Minnesota

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Minnesota

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

The rural and indigenous communities of Bemidji, Baudette, Nevis, Red Lake, Plummer, Greenbush, Naytahwaush, East Grand Forks, Waubun, Twin Valley

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There is ample evidence regarding the benefits of consistent and effective social emotional learning (SEL) programs in schools. Teaching children self-regulation and coping strategies is good for everyone and can help re-wire the brain for more positive life outcomes for those who have experienced trauma. However, schools still often lack the resources and incentives to implement SEL programs. The STAR program can be adapted to fit the needs and capacity of individual classrooms and communities. The "Speak Your Peace" curriculum's user-friendly tools could be used in just one classroom and offer an introduction to SEL skills to a school that may be unaware of the benefits of SEL programs. Or, if sufficient resources exist, the whole program model could be implemented in a multi-county region or with a multitude of community organizations.

STAR offers a unique and affordable way for schools to implement a social emotional learning program that gives students an authentic way to contribute positively to their school. Students are better able to fully integrate the communication and coping skills they learn by teaching others these important life skills. School culture is also improved as the STAR students become healthy role models for the younger students in the school.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

A mother reported that a day after her 6th grade daughter attended STAR Camp, she had new tools of calming herself and interacting with others. Upon observing a situation in which a peer was being excluded, the girl felt uncomfortable and decided to take a deep breath like she had learned in the Inner Calm session. She thought about how she and the other people were dealing with the conflict (Conflict Styles Session) and how she might compassionately communicate with her peers (I Statement Session). Those skills were strengthened even more as the girl worked with her team throughout the school year to teach various SEL concepts to younger students.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

During the 2015/16 school year, 139 students were members of STAR Teams and taught over 3,200 people. A 4th grade teacher commented "I love the STAR team! I think that our students really listen when it's other students talking about issues instead of always the adults." A STAR team member commented "STAR has helped me in many ways, including my relationships with friends." A social worker in another school commented, "The school accreditation team was very impressed with our overall school climate. I believe the STAR program is a big reason we have a supportive, caring, and empathetic school climate." In the future, publishing the Speak Your Peace curriculum online will allow more schools and organizations across the country and world access to concepts and procedures that will assist them in implementing this student-centered program.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The Northwest Minnesota Foundation helped create and has partnered with us on the STAR program, which has been a crucial element of its success. Together, we would like to develop our materials to be able to offer an affordable online resource to others that can also sustain our efforts in building SEL skills in our region. We would like to explore requests for "Speak Your Peace" that we've received from cities and countries (China, Zimbabwe).

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are other social emotional programs in existence, but none we know of that focus on students as the teachers. It has many advantages: 1) When students teach something they learn it better. 2) Students are more likely to believe in the usefulness of social and emotional skills and concepts taught by kids close to their own age, and thus are more likely to use them. 3) Kids are more likely to regard empathy, compassion, and non-violence as “cool” when influential students teach these peace skills. 4) Students, empowered as teachers, take the skills home to their families and communities.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Recent brain science is helping to identify approaches that enhance student learning and success. Educators are beginning to have a better grasp on the importance of social emotional learning as they learn more about adverse childhood experiences and the strategies that can help build resiliency in children who have experienced high levels of stress. Approaches to improve outcomes for traumatized students focus on improving adult-child relationships and increasing the levels of compassion in classrooms and schools, which is good for everyone involved!

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)


Program Design Clarity

In elementary and middle schools: •The principal chooses an advisor that relates well with students and is committed to assisting the STAR team throughout the year. •The advisor chooses 6 students in 6th-7th grade who have the ability to work as a team. •The team and advisor attend a 2-day STAR camp to learn concepts from SEL specialists •College student Youth Advocates learn alongside youth and provide guidance •Team meets with the advisor on a regular basis using the “Speak Your Peace” curriculum to plan lessons and then teach others •SEL Staff provide support to teams as needed

Community Leadership

We have regular evaluative meetings and surveys that include STAR Advisors, Youth Advocates and students in an effort to build more solid and effective programming. Regarding equity issues, we receive frequent feedback from two of our board members and one staff member who are enrolled members of area tribes. They assist us in making our approaches culturally responsive to the Indigenous students that are 20% of the population.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Even if the entire program cannot be implemented, our curriculum makes SEL concepts like Nonviolent Communication accessible to youth. We would like to fully research the program to determine outcomes for various levels of implementation. Penn State and SDSU applied for funding to research our program but were not awarded the grants. We are now looking at partnerships with local/state Universities to provide evidence of program outcomes.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Some of our negative experiences in school come from interactions from other kids. Teaching youth from each of the five SEL competency areas not only helps them traverse their own lives in a happier and healthier manner but it assists them in providing better childhood experiences for each other. Those that teach SEL skills to their peers, family and other students feel like they are contributing something important to those groups.

Leadership Story

When my daughter was 2 years old, I began researching educational approaches, recognizing that the way I was taught was not conducive to raising whole, healthy children. My focus and that of Peacemaker Resources was originally on trying to convince school leaders of the importance of focusing on emotional health. I now believe we must widen our net and convince health and insurance providers and other community entities that devoting resources on SEL programs saves dollars and and improves life outcomes for everyone involved.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Sue Liedl was awarded the following for her work in SEL programming, including the STAR program 1997 -- Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award 2011-- 25th Anniversary Excellence Awards for creating Students Teaching Attitudes of Respect program

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 80%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 20%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 60%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 20%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 20%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 40%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 20%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 40%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 60%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 20%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 50%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%

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Attachments (3)

Arun Gandhi and St. Philip's children 1995.jpg

Sue Liedl brought Arun Gandhi to Bemidji to work with the students at her school in 1995. Together, they presented to hundreds of community members on peace skills that can be taught in school.

comments regarding STAR from various.docx

Comments from a teacher, student, and social worker regarding STAR

STAR Flier NMF and PR.pdf

Informational Flyer on the Students Teaching Attitudes of Respect Program


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leanne McEvoy

Love this!  I live one town over from Sandy Hook CT.  We all know the tragedy that took place there and one of the many amazing things to come from that day is Scarlett Lewis's foundation for her son Jesse.  The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation is someone you should reach out to.  Best of luck to you!

Photo of Barb Houg

Thanks, Leanne! I took a look at this Foundation. The mother who started this movement and other parents from that tragedy that I have heard speak are sincerely the most inspirational people that I know. To have faced that event and believe that love is the most important way to respond to that has been life-changing for me. I plan to look more at the work of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. Thanks for the recommendation.

Photo of Ivette Guillermo-McGahee

Thank you for sharing this exciting and innovative project!  I feel that this SEL project holds great potential for increasing childrens' wellbeing, as it reduces some of the major barriers faced, such as funding and resistance to learning from teachers.  I am curious to know if this project has been modified for students with special needs, and if not, are there any plans to do this at a future time?  Also, (outside of this initiative) do you have any future plans for developing a comparable program for grades 9-12?  Thanks again for the exciting contribution!

Photo of Barb Houg

Thanks for the comments, Ivette! Although we have not made specific adaptations for students with special needs, we have had participants that have had various disabilities and we can make customized adjustments on the spot such as simplifying the language. Having participants of varying abilities actually enriches the learning; For example, we explain that one of the attributes of cooperative games is that everyone is included so we assist students in identifying strategies in which someone with a broken leg, for instance, might be able to participate in a tag game. 

The Speak Your Peace curriculum could work for high school students as many of the concepts are appropriate to any age. We have developed a "Girls Lead" program for high school students that uses many of the STAR concepts as well as delving into more complex issues. We are just beginning to develop "Girls Lead on the Go" materials in a "camp-in-a-box" concept.  We hope to design a similar program for boys in the future.