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Maryland native's tech to launch in schools nationwide

 Ashley Williams is the founder and CEO of Clymb, a software tool created to promote emotional wellbeing for students.
Ashley Williams is the founder and CEO of Clymb, software used to promote emotional health for young people.

Young people are in the midst of a mental health crisis, health officials and recent studies have warned. But one Baltimore entrepreneur seeks to foster emotional wellbeing leveraging technology to guide students toward a more optimistic future.

Ashley Williams is the founder and CEO of Clymb, an interactive software tool for K-12 children. Williams hopes Clymb can be one of the many resources educators can use to better support their students.

Right now, the software is being used by city schools and local nonprofits.

This fall, Clymb is expected to roll out to 70 sites across the country.

“We have a generation of young people, particularly because of the pandemic, experiencing high rates of toxic stress, higher rates of depression, higher rates of anxiety,” Williams said.

Clymb was created in 2018, then known as Infinite Focus Schools. At the time, the idea was not quite refined, Williams said. Accelerators like the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab offered her product more visibility. Today, Clymb’s funders include the American Heart Association and Ignite Capital.

Williams, who grew up in Anne Arundel County, said that her technology would have been helpful for her when she was one of the few Black students in an otherwise predominately white school.

“I experienced discomfort, I experienced fear, I experienced anxiety. And I didn't have any resource, any technique, any tool to support me through those early childhood challenges,” she said. “And as an adult, I know that I was not alone in that.”

Williams also drew inspiration from her work in education, as the director of climate and culture at the Southwest Baltimore Charter School.

“I was really interested in bringing meaningful, effective resources into our school community. And when I looked at the market, I could not find the exact right thing,” she said.

Clymb approaches emotional health the way a doctor approaches physical health.

“When you go to your doctor, your doctor gives you a personalized treatment plan,” she said. “Because of its personalization to you, its specificity to you, your chances of improvement are increased.”

That is what makes it different from other digital emotional health tools on the market.

Schools and nonprofits purchase the software, and have to get permission from parents for children under 13 years old. In Baltimore, the software is in nine locations.

The technology is considered age-appropriate for students. When users log into the software, Clymb does a quick daily emotional check-in. How are you really feeling? What is your level of focus? Students can use different emojis to answer.  

Once they finish that assessment, they get their “personalized treatment plan,” which include mindfulness audios and guided “energizing exercises.”

The content was inspired by therapists, emotional intelligence experts, and mindfulness instructors.

Over time, teachers track the emotional experience of their students and the progress they make.

In Baltimore, the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation uses the software. Monica Davenport is a site coordinator for children after school.

“My little kids love it,” Davenport said.

But it’s more difficult to entice the older children and some students may not always feel like being honest. But the software is still a good way for them to get more aware about their emotions, especially with the current lack of resources, Davenport said.

“I don't think that in the actual school setting, they do very much to actually address your honest emotions,” she said.

Instead, there seems to be a focus on the behavior of students – without assessing how emotional health affects that behavior.

Williams hopes Clymb will be one among many other resources that change the way schools approach emotional health.

“In 10 years, I would hope that, you know, social emotional learning is embedded into the education curriculum, and there are resources earmarked for social emotional learning and emotional intelligence in schools the same way that there are resources earmarked for science,” Williams says.

Williams also created a petition on change.org, which calls on Congress to fund wellness resources at schools. The petition has more than 720 signatures.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.
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