POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

Principal Investigator: Roger Weissberg

Level of Intervention: Universal

Target Population: Middle-school students (age 11-14)

References: Caplan, Weissberg, Grober, Sivo, Grady, & Jacoby (1992); Weissberg, Barton & Shriver (1997)

Theory (Risk & Protective Factors Targeted):
Founded in research on social problem solving through acquisition of cognitive, affective and behavioral skills. Focuses on enhancing children’s abilities to coordinate cognition, behavior and affect to accomplish daily social tasks, and creating an environment (school and home) that reinforces and provides opportunities to practice adaptive skills and behavior. The program addresses risk factors associated with drug use and promotes problem solving and stress-management skills.

Description of Intervention:
PYD is a highly structured, 121 page curriculum for a school-based program of 20 sessions provided to 6th and 7th graders during two 50 minute class periods per week over 15 weeks. Focusing primarily on general social competence promotion and substance abuse prevention, the program covers stress management, self-esteem, problem solving, health information related to substance abuse, assertiveness, and the use of social support networks. The curriculum was taught using didactic instruction, class discussion, videotapes, diaries, small-group role-plays, worksheets, and homework assignments. The lessons were provided by masters-level health educators from a community-based agency co-teaching with classroom teachers. The instructors emphasized the relevance and broad applicability of the lessons being taught by using real-life social situations as the basis for discussion.

Research Subjects:
The sample consisted of 282 6th and 7th grade students from an urban middle school (69%) and a suburban middle school (31%) in south-central Connecticut. The sample was nearly equally divided by gender, and ranged in age from 11 to 14 with the median age being 12. The urban population was 90% African American and consisted of 72 treatment and 134 control students. The suburban population was 99% European American and consisted of 37 treatment and 39 control students. Treatment and control groups were similar in race and gender.

Research Design:
From a pool of interested teachers, classes were stratified within ability groupings and randomly assignment to treatment or control group. One class was later moved from treatment to control because of logistical problems. There were significant pretest differences between the urban and suburban sites on factors related to outcomes such as coping skills and intention to experiment with substances. There were also within-site pretest differences between treatment and control groups, although repeated measures ANOVAs and analysis of covariance on post scores using pre scores as covariates yielded no evidence of bias.

Teacher and student surveys were used to collect data at pre and post that measured coping skills, social and emotional adjustment, and intentions, attitudes, and self-reported substance use. Coping skills were assessed using an alternative solutions self-test, adapted from the Decision-Making Questionnaire (Gersick, et al., 1988), and a second stress-coping self-test measure. Social and emotional adjustment was measured using a teacher rating scale developed by Allen, Weisberg and Hawkins (1989) to assess classroom behavior, the Rand Well-Being Scale (Veit & Ware, 1983) as a student self-report of general mood and emotional state, the Behavioral Conduct and Self Worth scales of the Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985) as self-report measures of children’s perceptions of competency in these domains, and a 4-point scale of problem solving efficacy. Reliability for all measures was moderate to high.

Outcomes:
Repeated-measures MANOVAs indicated significant group x time interactions for coping skills (p < .001), social and emotional adjustment (p < .002), and intentions, attitudes and self-reported substance abuse (p < .05). Followup univariate ANOVAs revealed significant changes in quantity and effectiveness of alternative solution thinking in hypothetical situations, quantity and adaptiveness of stress management skills, teacher ratings of conflict resolution, impulse control, and popularity, self-rated problem solving efficacy, intention to use beer or hard liquor, and self-reported excessive alcohol use.

Strengths & Limitations:
The PYD program focuses on the promotion of individual cognitive and self-management skills as protective factors against poor outcomes for children. PYD places little emphasis on family management. The evaluation demonstrated significant outcomes across a number of measures using both student self reports and teacher ratings. However the sample is somewhat small after considering the division between urban and suburban groups. Important pretest differences between the urban and suburban groups also make it more difficult to interpret generalizability. Although there was no formal assessment of implementation fidelity, the investigators do report taking specific steps during implementation to closely monitor the process. The study also monitored for possible bias related to attrition, which was not indicated through data analysis.

The PYD program’s narrow focus has been expanded recently in the development of the Social Competence Promotion Program for Young Adolescents (Weissberg, Barton & Shriver, 1997), which adds a component for prevention of risky sexual behavior and greatly increases the dosage to 45 sessions. Preliminary outcomes show significant reductions in self-reported delinquency and antisocial behavior, though detailed analyses have not yet been published. There has been no independent replication of the original program.

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