Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Programs in Two Social Domains: School + Community

11/13/1998

Teen Outreach Program, 1991-95

Allen, Philliber, Herrling, and Kuperminc (1996) evaluated the Teen Outreach Program, which addressed twelve positive youth development constructs including social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and moral competencies, bonding, self-efficacy, opportunities for prosocial involvement, prosocial norms, positive identity, belief in the future, and self-determination.

Program Description

Although the focus of program evaluation and measurement was on preventing teen pregnancy and academic failure, the theoretical focus was a developmental approach based on Helper Theory (defined as "empowerment") and Social Development Theory (defined as "promotion of autonomy and identification with others").  The evaluation predicted that students would be empowered by having the opportunity to be help-givers, rather than help-receivers.  The program involved adolescents in volunteer activities; classroom discussions centering on various age-appropriate issues and service experiences (understanding yourself and your values, life skills, dealing with family stress, human growth and development, and issues related to social and emotional transitions from adolescence to adulthood); and class activities promoting program goals (group exercises, role plays, guest speakers and informational presentations).  The volunteer component included such activities as working in hospitals, peer tutoring, and participation in walkathons.  Students were required to provide a minimum of 20 hours per year of volunteer experience, but averaged 45.8 hours over the course of the program, with the median participant performing 35 hours of service.  Positive youth development strategies included skills training in coping, decision making, self-management and life skills (competence, self-efficacy, opportunities for prosocial involvement); tutoring (bonding and competence); and techniques for and shifting peer group perceptions and norms (prosocial norms).  Goals included promoting children's empowerment (self-determination), autonomy and identification with others (positive identity and bonding).  Classroom discussions occurred at least once a week throughout the year.

Research Design

The study used an experimental design in which 25 schools nationwide were randomly assigned to conditions from 1991 to 1995.  The evaluation did not include a follow-up period; all data were measured at immediate posttest following a one-year (school year) intervention.  Prior to this evaluation, a number of evaluations of Teen Outreach had suggested promising results, but each was subject to design limitations.  One purpose of this study was to address concerns generated from the limitations of the previous research.  Students were randomly assigned to either Teen Outreach participation or the control condition either at the student level or occasionally, at the classroom level.  At the student level, sites had more students sign up for the intervention than could be accommodated in the program and participants and controls were randomly selected by picking names out of a hat or choosing every other name on an alphabetized list.  Students entered the program in various ways, as part of their health curricula, as an academic elective, through teacher/guidance counselor suggestion, or as an after-school activity. Approximately 10% of sites contacted regarding the random assignment procedure participated; the remaining sites did not want to participate in random assignment or did not have enough interested participants.  There were 342 program participants and 353 control group participants at study entry, all in grades nine through 12.  The program group was 86% female and the control group was 83% female.  The intervention group was 17% Caucasian, 67.7% African American, 12.9% Hispanic, and 2.4% of another ethnic identity.  The control group was 20.4% Caucasian, 66.6% African American, 9.6% Hispanic, and 3.4% of another ethnic identity.  Students were assessed at the start of the school year and at program exit during late spring.  Attrition analyses showed 5.3% attrition among program participants and 8.4% among comparison students.  Students who dropped out of the study were not significantly different from those who remained either in history of class failure, ethnicity, parents' educational levels, or household composition.  However, those who left were more likely to have had or caused a prior pregnancy, to have been suspended, to have been younger, and to have been male.  Although three sites were dropped from the analyses due to significant differences in entry characteristics or failure to recontact large numbers of youth in the control groups, the authors conducted substantial alternative analyses which lent confidence to their findings.

Results of the Intervention

Self-report questionnaires provided information on changes in problem behaviors, including school failure, suspensions and pregnancy.  The same questions were asked at pre and posttest, except the pregnancy question referred only to one year and a question was added to identify students who had dropped out or intended not to return to school in the prior year.  Significant decreases were found for the experimental group on measures of school failure (31% vs 37%, p<.001), school suspension (16% vs 21%, p<.001), and teen-pregnancy (3.2% vs 5.4%, p<.01), compared with the control group.  The authors reported cost data, stating that a full academic year of the program to a class of 18 to 25 students cost approximately $500 to $700 per student.