Littlestown PROSPER  follows the blueprints

     

 

For the last three years, I have shared information regarding the PROSPER Program at the Maple Avenue Middle School in Littlestown. The PROSPER (PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience) Project, is a collaborative effort of the 4-H Program of the Penn State Cooperative Extension Adams County, the Research Center at Penn State University, the Littlestown School District and community members in Littlestown.

The purpose of this collaborative effort is to provide evidenced based programs that will help reduce substance use and other problematic behaviors in youth. Our team was faced with the decision on picking a program that would meet the specific needs in Littlestown.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, reviews programs for their effectiveness based upon specific criteria.

According to the SAMAHA website (HTTP://www.modelprograms.samhsa.gov )Model Programs are well-implemented, well-evaluated programs, meaning they have been reviewed by the National Registry of evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) according to rigorous standards of research. Developers, whose program have the capacity to become Model Programs, have coordinated and agreed with SAMHSA to provide quality materials, training, and technical assistance for nation-wide implementation. Model Programs score at least 4.0 on a 5 point scale on Integrity and Utility, based on NREPP.

There are two programs offered in Littlestown. The first is a family based program now offered in the fall and spring of every school year to the families of all school students.

Upon analyzing the selections available to us, our committee of volunteers, school representatives, and Cooperative Extension staff picked the Strengthening Families Program (SFP) as the family program. The benefits of SFP is that it includes parents and other family members in the process, and youth and parents alike are offered skills development and reinforcement of successful practices they are already using.

The program helps youth with self-esteem, social and life skills, and developing resistance to negative peer pressure, while parents focus on setting limits and giving love. Family meetings, effective communication, developing consequences to match misbehavior and identifying and focusing on goals and benefits to the whole family.

In addition to the training, childcare is provided to the younger siblings of the participants, and families enjoy a meal offered by the Littlestown Band Boosters prior to the session. Based upon feedback from the families, this is a tremendous benefit to the program so the families don’t have to rush home and eat before coming to the school in the evening.

The All-Stars Program is offered as part of the school curriculum to all seventh-graders. This “sister” program targets general drug use as well as violence and premature sexual activity.
Through small group activities and discussions, youth participate in 13, 45-minutes classroom sessions. This curriculum focuses upon building five qualities that decrease the youth’s chances of becoming involved with general drug use as well as violence and premature sexual activity: pro-social ideals, normative beliefs, personal commitment, pro-social bonding. And positive parental bonding.

To ensure quality and to make sure that the programs are delivered the way they were developed, we go through a review and observation process to make sure that program fidelity is maintained. We hire trained professionals to sit in on sessions to monitor delivery and content to make sure the families and students receive a quality education.

This program information and more can be found under Model Programs at the SAMSHA web site.

Since March of 2003, 109 parents and 87 youth have graduated from th SFP Program. In addition, younger and older siblings have benefitted from this programming.

In two years, the All-Stars school based program has provided prevention education to every seventh grader, and the school has embraced this program and will continue to maintain it. The total number of youth served (including youth scheduled to complete the program this year) is approximately 600 individuals.

So now you ask, “Does this program work?” I am proud to say that with three years of evaluation data to exam that the programs are doing what they are intended to do.

There are several layers of evaluation that are performed with this project. With SFP, parents and youth complete a “now and before” survey on multiple questions. They compare themselves on certain behaviors/actions upon completion of the program to the same behaviors/actions they used prior to the program.

Every category on every survey showed positive growth in this self report.

The top five categories as reported by the parents are:
Wait to deal with problems with child until I have cooled down.
Follow through with consequences each time he or she breaks a rule.
Often tell my child how I feel when he or she misbehaves.
Try to see things from my youth’s point of view.
Give compliments and rewards when my child does chores at home or learns to follow rules.

The top five categories as reported by the youth are:
I know one step to take to reach one of my goals.
I do things to help me feel better when I am under stress.
I appreciate the things my parent(s)/caregiver(s) do for me.
We have family meetings to discuss plans, schedules, and rules.
I know the qualities that are important in a true friend.

Finally, the Research Center at Penn State University has provided a more in depth study as to the quality of the programs. In a joint research study with Iowa State University, examining 14 intervention sites and 14 comparison sites in two states, the findings show:

Maple Avenue Middle School in Littlestown - 6th graders participated in the Strengthening Families Program for Youth 10 to 14 (SFP) as part of the Prosper Project.

Results just in from a survey given to MAMS students during the spring of seventh grade show that PROSPER youth whose community functioning - a key factor in preventing substance abuse and antisocial behavior.

Overall, youth from PROSPER communities with SFP in 6th grade reported that their parents are using better child management practices, are more consistent in their discipline, used less harsh discipline (yelling) and have families that stick together and support each other more. These results show an effect at the community level (for the whole 7th grade, not only SFP participants).

Communities that participated in SFP say their families are doing better on average as compared to youth reports from communities that did not provide SFP (“These differences are all statistically significant”).

Somehow, as I worked with this great Littlestown advisory team, the Maple Avenue Middle School staff, the facilitators and the participants of SFP, I knew we had a great program going. Now, that we have research data that proves that what we are doing is working; I imagine it is sort of like standing on the Olympic podium with a gold medal hanging around your neck. My hat goes off to the community of Littlestown for making a difference in the lives of the people that live there.

 

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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