Program Cuts Substance Abuse and Problem Behaviors in Half for Fifth Graders
The study, conducted by Oregon State University researchers and supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, involved 20 public elementary schools in Hawaii. Participating schools had below-average standardized test scores and diverse student populations with an average of 55 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
The intervention tested was Postive Action (PA), a comprehensive K-12 social and emotional development program for enhancing behavior and academic achievement. Schools were randomly assigned from matched pairs to implement PA or not. The program consists only daily 15-20 minute interactive lessons focusing on responsible self-management, getting along with others, and self-improvement. The lessons occupied about one hour a week beginning in the first or second grade.
PA is an integrative program that integrates student/teacher contact and opportunities for the exchange of ideas as well as feedback and constructive criticism. The program is school wide and involves teachers, parents, and students. It takes a positive, holistic approach to social and emotional development rather than focusing on the negative aspects of substance abuse, violence, and sexual activity.
In fifth grade, 976 students (most ages 10 or 11) responded to a questionnaire that asked about their use of substances including tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs; involvement in violent behaviors such as carrying a weapon or threatening someone; and engaging in voluntary sexual activity. The total number of students reporting that they had engaged in any of these behaviors was small.
Students exposed to the PA program were about half as likely to report any of these behaviors as students who did not participate in the program. Among those exposed to PA, those who had received the lessons for three or more years reported the lowest rates of experience with any of these behaviors.
"This study demonstrates that a comprehensive, school wide social and character development program can have a substantial impact on reducing problem behaviors of public health importance in elementary-school-age youth," said Brian Flay, professor of public health at OSU and the study's principal investigator.
Flay plans to conduct a follow-up study to determine whether the beneficial effects of the PA program on fifth graders are sustained as the children grow older.