PROSPER begins second phase in Littlestown
It has been over a year now since the Littlestown PROSPER team began meeting monthly in order to direct the progress of the Strengthening Families Program at Maple Avenue Middle School.
The PROSPER Mission is to develop and evaluate a framework for science-based programming in schools and communities. In Littlestown, the science-based program being offered to the sixth grade youth and families is the Strengthening Families Program.
There are many benefits for the families and communities involved in the seven study sites in Pennsylvania. Parents get an opportunity to increase and/or enhance parenting skills. Youth improve life skills and interpersonal skills while participating in the program, and combined, there is an increased family well-being. The scientifically tested program being used will help reduce youth substance abuse and lead to fewer, other youth problem behaviors.
PROSPER is actually a two stage program. In January of 2003, we offered SFP to all of the sixth grade families. We offered three sessions from January through March and another three sessions from March to May. In all, 50 parents and 37 youth graduated from the SFP class of 2003.
There are several tools that the Research Center at Penn State University uses to assess the success of this program. The most immediate for me was the survey compiled at the end of the program. The self-assessment survey asked the participants how they saw themselves in a skill area prior to the sessions, and then asked them how they saw themselves after the sessions. The 37 youth answered 15 questions in different skill areas, and across the study, 100 percent of these 37 youth, reported an increase in the skill areas studied.
This held true for the adults as well. The adults answered 20 questions related to the curriculum, and across the study, 100 percent of the adults reported increases in all of the areas studied.
Additionally, there was an overwhelming number of personal, handwritten comments offered by the parents and youth, and any of you that have had to evaluate a program, or have had to fill out one of those little forms realize that that in itself is an indicator.
Phase tow of PROSPER is currently underway at Maple Avenue Middle School, and phase two is just a little bit different than its sibling SFP. Where SFP was a family optional program, All-Stars is a school-base curriculum being delivered in the classroom, and designed to prevent alcohol and drug use, violence and premature sexual activity among middle school students.
All-Stars uses five strategies to prevent alcohol and other drug use:
Reinforce the belief that risky behaviors are not normal or acceptable by the adolescent’s peer group;
Cultivate the belief that risky behaviors do not fit with the youth’s personal ideals and future aspirations;
Create voluntary, personal, and public commitments to not participate in risky behaviors;
Strengthen relationships between the young person and positive social institutions; and
Help parents to listen to their children, communicate clear no-use expectations about alcohol and other drugs, and support their children in working towards positive life goals.
The goal of All-Stars is to delay the onset of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use and other risky behaviors. Early adolescence is the critical period for the onset of substance use. Studies show that, unless countered with a strong prevention, protective qualities erode during this period placing an adolescent at higher risk of becoming involved in substance use.
Well our team is back, and we are planning for the next SFP class, the SFP class of 2004. We are fine-tuning recruitment strategies in order to increase participation in January. School newsletters, direct mailing to families, personal phone calls, posters, displays, classroom presentations, a booth at parent/teacher conference are just a few of the strategies we will utilize.
Another indicator that a program is successful is its ability to maintain a low turnover rate among the staff. Last year we trained 23 SFP Facilitators, and this year we have 22 that will return. The one we lost moved out of the area, but I am positive we would not have lost her if she had stayed in Littlestown.
Our long-term goal of this project is for the communities that institute these programs, to continue utilizing them once the research has been completed.
Positive results, a supportive community, and parents dedicated and concerned for the well-being and development of their children will all be key in PROSPER success.
Edward J. Bender is the 4-H Coordinator serving Adams County. Penn State in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA, phone 334-6271 or 1-888-472-0261, office e-mail AdamsExt@psu.edu