Claire Crooks has received the prestigious annual WORLDiscoveries Vanguard Innovator of the Year award.
A clinical psychologist, professor at Western’s Faculty of Education and director of the Centre for School Mental Health, Claire Crooks – along with her team – develops, implements and evaluates programs in mental health promotion and violence prevention in a range of school and community settings.
Her research looks at the gaps between science, practice and policy relating to the healthy development of children and youth.
With fellow researchers, Crooks developed The Fourth R, a curriculum based on the principle that relationship skills can and should be taught in much the same way as reading, writing and arithmetic.
Research has shown that youth with strong interpersonal and social-emotional skills perform better in school and are better equipped for workplace and family roles as adults. Programs such as Fourth R offer noticeable economic and social benefits by reducing violence and harmful relationships among teens that carry on into adulthood.
The curriculum has been adopted by more than 5,000 schools in Canada and the United States and the intention is to expand it internationally.
WORLDiscoveries has been selling the program since 2019 as a skill-focused, relationship-based program for grades 7, 8 and 9.
Each grade-level curriculum includes units on personal safety and injury prevention; human development and sexual health; substance use, addictions and related behaviours; and healthy eating.
“Over the past 20 years, this approach of being relationship-focused, promoting positive youth development and integrating it into schools has permeated the field,” said Crooks. “It is not an overstatement to say that we have been at the forefront of that work and changed the field.”
The Fourth R is also a curriculum that evolves with the shifting landscape facing children and teens, Crooks said.
“My team and I have never been content to coast on our past success and are continually innovating.”
One new initiative involves working closely with Indigenous partners to develop programming geared to their needs, she said.
WORLDiscoveries is the technology transfer and business development office for Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute and Robarts Research Institute.
The annual awards recognize local researchers who, through partnership with WORLDiscoveries, achieve market-readiness milestones in patenting, licensing or selling their innovations.
“The Innovator of the Year award recognizes world-class research that has resulted in a breakthrough technology of significant value to society,” said Souzan Armstrong, executive director of WORLDiscoveries. “Claire and her team have developed a technology that is making a big impact in the life of youth by empowering them in healthy relationship skills.”
After receiving the award, Crooks said she appreciated the recognition that innovation “does not have to mean a shiny new piece of equipment or medical device.”
This year’s Vanguard ceremony recognized more than 20 individuals for achievements in diverse disciplines including science, nutrition, medicine, engineering and education.