CHICAGO—The University of Chicago Education Lab today released a new study that found school-based group counseling programs can significantly reduce PTSD, anxiety, and depression among Black and Latina girls. The study, which evaluated the Working on Womanhood (“WOW”) program, a program developed by and for Black and Latina women and girls through the non-profit organization Youth Guidance, comes as girls nationwide experience significant trauma compounded by the pandemic. WOW was found to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms by 22 percent among adolescent girls in Chicago neighborhood schools, in addition to reductions in anxiety and depression. These are critical findings as young girls in the United States report record levels of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and violence.
The study, which was published in Science Advances, measured the impact of providing Working on Womanhood’s weekly, in-school, group-based mentoring services and skill-building rooted in narrative therapy, acceptance commitment therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The study included over 2,000 Chicago Public School girls in 9th-11th grade across ten neighborhood high schools, 85 percent of whom were Black or Latina. Girls did not show outward signs of risk factors-most were coming to school regularly and maintained at least a B average. However the study team conducted a baseline survey that found staggeringly high rates of trauma exposure-nearly a third of the participating young women had witnessed someone being violently assaulted or killed, and almost half had someone close to them die violently or suddenly. Prior research has shown violence exposure has a direct impact on student learning–according to one study, Chicago students spend roughly one week out of very month functioning at a lower cognitive level solely because of their proximity to homicides. In this study, the Education Lab found that an astonishing 38 percent of 9th to 11th-grade adolescent girls in Chicago’s neighborhood schools exhibited signs of PTSD at baseline–double the rate experienced by service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.