Project Alliance 2: Transitions
Promoting Adolescent Success in the High School Transition
Funding period: May 27, 2005–February 28, 2010
Principal Investigator: Dr. Elizabeth Stormshak
Co-Investigators: Dr. Thomas Dishion, Dr. Kate Kavanagh
Project Director: Dr. Allison Caruthers
Funded by: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health
We learned a great deal about substance use prevention with middle school youth from the past decade’s work with Project Alliance 1. The goal for Project Alliance 2 was to build on our success from Project Alliance 1 and enhance that study’s effects. Specific aims were to enhance school-wide behavior management by establishing family resource centers in participating schools, address expectations and concerns relevant to the transition to high school, develop and test intervention components that focus on cultural enhancement, evaluate how family engagement affects the growth of adolescent risk behaviors, and develop a training and fidelity model.
This study was the third generation study of the Adolescent Transitions Program. In this study we again embedded our family-centered school-based intervention model, EcoFIT, into three middle schools in Portland, Oregon. The 593 families involved in Project Alliance 2 (PAL 2) had a child enrolled in 7th or 8th grade at one of those schools.
We worked to enhance our program in three ways. First, we focused on the transition to high school. Our work and that of many other researchers reveal that substance use and certain problem behaviors dramatically increase during this period. Our family-centered model was extended to provide parents with appropriate information and support for promoting a smooth transition from middle to high school. We expected that this transition would be an important time to focus on reducing early substance use and increasing school retention, academic achievement, and parental monitoring.
Second, we enhanced our program by making it more relevant to culturally diverse families. For instance, African American and Latino youth are more likely to experience family poverty and stress, racial discrimination, and oppression. Research has shown that a positive ethnic identity is related to a number of important social–emotional outcomes for youth, including lower rates of depression, enhanced social competence, and higher levels of achievement. We paid explicit attention to these factors in our assessments and in our work with families, believing that they would help further reduce risk behaviors and promote healthy development in culturally diverse adolescents. We especially attended to the parents’ role in helping culturally diverse young adolescents navigate being a minority person in the social world involving peers and adults outside the home. Our Cultural Enhancement Team of community leaders shaped and guided our intervention efforts in this area.
Last, we worked with Portland Public Schools to test and refine our research tools and training process to maximize the potential success of implementing this program throughout the school system.
We used a variety of methods to collect data from participating families. For families engaged in the School Study, we collected survey data annually from youth beginning in 6th grade and conducted annual telephone interviews with their parents. Teachers and schools provided data about the participating youth’s attendance, behavior problems, and academic achievement.
Families participating in our Family Study participated in all these ways, and also participated in an annual Family Check-Up. The Family Check-Up consists of in-person interviews, a videotaped family discussion, and feedback and support from our family consultants. Our assessment team collected and organized data from these activities for use by both the intervention team and data analysts associated with the project. We stayed in touch with all families participating in the project and recontacted them if they had moved.
Our family consultants worked hard to provide a strong link between home and school. In addition to providing feedback, support, and follow-up to families participating in the Family Check-Up, we met regularly with school counselors and student management teams to problem solve and assist with students’ academic and social adjustment. In addition, we attended all school–parent functions (e.g., back-to-school night) and advocated for families as necessary. We maintained a family resource room at each school and presented topic nights about concerns such as supervision and academic success.
2010: Data collection and intervention services were completed for this phase of the study. Youth Surveys, used to assess behavior problems, drug and alcohol use, peer relations, school connection, ethnic identity, family behavior, and future goals, were collected for 82% of Cohort 1 and 88% of Cohort 2. Data were also collected from teachers and district administrators regarding the risk status, behavior problems, and academic achievement of each study participant. Wave 2 of the Parent Daily Report, a telephone interview with parents about their youth's adjustment, was collected from 79% of intervention and 84% of control parents. An optional Wave 3 Family Check-Up was completed with familes assigned to the intervention. Data collected at Grades 6–9 revealed that the FCU intervention directly affected growth in self-regulation and indirectly resulted in improvements in depression and school engagement during the transition to high school. Data collected at Grades 6–8 showed the FCU intervention to be successful at reducing growth of antisocial behavior, alcohol use, tobacco use, and marijuana use among middle school youth.
2009: Wave 4 school data were collected from Cohort 1 and Wave 3 school data from Cohort 2. Late in the year Wave 4 school data collection was begun for Cohort 2. Wave 2 parent telephone interview data collection was started. Wave 2 Family Check-Ups were completed and the first Wave 3 Family Check-Ups with Cohort 1 were accomplished.
2008: Two waves of school survey data were collected from both cohorts of youth, and Wave 3 data were collected from Cohort 1. Wave 1 parent telephone interviews were completed with more than 80% of families. Wave 1 Family Check-Ups were completed with more than 150 families in the family study and Wave 2 FCUs were completed with one third of these families. Youth participating in the family study who transitioned to high school in the fall also had an opportunity to participate in the Teen Check-Up. The Teen Check-Up helps teens identify strengths and potential barriers to high school success. Areas for feedback include academic behaviors and attitudes, personal strengths, healthy choices, and support. We began offering the Teen Check-Up in spring 2008.