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IES Grant

Title: Development of Project DREAM: An After-School Program to Promote Academic Success via Social and Emotional Learning and Connectedness with Adults
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Hurd, Noelle Awardee: University of Virginia
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (8/1/2015-7/31/2018) Award Amount: $1,449,915
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A150028

Co-Principal Investigator: Nancy Deutsch

Purpose: In this study, researchers developed and tested an afterschool prevention program. The program was designed to promote better social and emotional competencies and relationships with non-parental adults for disconnected middle school students to support their academic achievement. Research indicates that disconnected adolescents are in need of supportive relationships with non-parental adults to support their social and emotional competencies and help them remain engaged in school. Project DREAM (Developing Resourcefulness, Engagement, Acceptance, and Mentoring) provides an afterschool setting in which middle school students work with a non-parental adult from their family, school or community. Students learn how to recognize personal strengths, set goals and plan for the future, select appropriate role models, navigate relationships with adults, and make responsible decisions to provide a foundation for increasing success at school. Preliminary evidence suggests that participation in Project DREAM boosts social and emotional skills among disconnected youth. Programs like Project DREAM may be particularly impactful as they work to cultivate stronger bonds between adolescents and caring adults in their everyday lives. Accordingly, programs such as Project DREAM hold promise to have ongoing influence on adolescent development as these adults are likely to remain involved in youths' lives as they transition from middle school to high school.

Project Activities: In Years 1 and 2, the researchers iteratively developed the program in partnership with key stakeholders to create meaningful and feasible program content and procedures. In Year 3, researchers randomly assigned eligible students (i.e., those identified as not having supportive relationships with non-parental adults) to participate in the program or to enter a wait-list control group to determine promise for improving targeted student outcomes. Project DREAM was designed to be low-cost and easily scalable. Program materials are minimal and affordable; required staff time is one hour of preparation each week in addition to the facilitation of a 2-hour session each week for eight weeks.

Key Features: Key features of the intervention include the following:activities designed to build adolescents' confidence, improve their goal-setting abilities, increase their future orientation, bolster their decision-making skills, and strengthen their connectedness with supportive adults in their schools and communities.

Products: The research team generated a fully developed afterschool intervention, Project DREAM, to help disconnected adolescents develop strong social and emotional competencies and relationships with supportive non-parental adults to promote success at school. In addition, the researchers produced evidence of the program's acceptability, usability, feasibility, fidelity of implementation and promise for improving targeted student outcomes. Publications are forthcoming.

Key Outcomes: 1) Project DREAM proved to be usable and feasible. Early on, key stakeholders and participants provided extensive feedback that guided iterative development and refinement of all aspects of the intervention. Partner schools participated with enthusiasm and interest in continuing to include Project DREAM among their afterschool offerings. Although scheduling challenges presented (as is common for afterschool programs), attendance was high and consistent among those who committed to participate. Specifically, attendance among the 83 students who agreed to participate in the 8-session intervention was high (mean = 7 sessions, SD = 1.35). 2) Project DREAM was well-received by school staff facilitators and program participants. According to survey data, of the 81 youth who participated in at least 4 or more of the 8 sessions, general satisfaction with the program was high (mean = 3.1, SD = .48) as was relationship quality with their participating program adult (mean = 3.1, SD = .48); both of these measure were assessed on 1–4 response scale where 4 was the highest score. 3) We have preliminary promising evidence that Project DREAM participation improves participating adolescents' connectedness with adults ( = .21; p < .05), goal-setting abilities ( = .16; p < .05), and decision-making skills ( = .18; p < .05).

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place in an urban/suburban region of central Virginia.

Sample: Students who did not have supportive relationships with non-parental adults and school staff in five middle schools participated in this project. These students, their parents, adults from the community, and school staff participated in focus groups and interviews during the first two project years. Nine students from one middle school and 9 non-parental adults participated in Year 1 program implementation to inform development. Twenty students and non-parental adults from two other middle schools participated in implementation in Year 2. Two hundred and six students (49% female; 40% Black, 19% Latino) from five area middle schools participated in the pilot study in Year 3. Of the 103 participants who were assigned to the treatment condition, 83 agreed to participate and 81 participated in at least 4 or more of the 8 sessions. Eighty three non-parental adults also participated in the program. Participating students' English Language Arts and Math teachers also participated in Year 3.

Intervention: Project DREAM (Developing Resourcefulness, Engagement, Acceptance, and Mentoring) is based on concepts from positive youth development and social and emotional learning frameworks. The afterschool program is facilitated by two facilitators (at least one of which is a school staff member). The program consists of eight 2-hour sessions that meet weekly. Adolescents attend the sessions with a nominated non-parental adult. The sessions focus on recognizing personal strengths and identity, setting goals and planning for the future, selecting appropriate role models, communicating effectively with adults, and making responsible decisions. Program implementation is supported by a training manual that addresses developmental issues facing adolescents, theories of social and emotional learning and positive youth development, facilitation styles that encourage and support adolescent engagement and participation, and best practices in mentoring relationships. The manual includes detailed instructions and scripts for school staff who supervise the afterschool sessions. There also is a manual and training session for the nominated non-parental adults to promote their positive engagement with the student who nominated them throughout the duration of the program and beyond.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers used the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) model to iteratively develop the afterschool program. School staff, parents, community adults, and students from two of the participating middle schools worked with the researchers over the first two years of the project. These stakeholders provided feedback on program content, usability, and feasibility through advisory boards, focus groups, interviews, and ethnographic observations of sessions. Across program years, researchers implemented the program sessions alongside school staff trained by the researchers. In Year 3, the researchers conducted a pilot test to determine promise of the program by randomly assigning students to participate in the Project DREAM sessions or enter a wait-list control group. The researchers measured student outcomes at baseline, one week after the 8-week program, and at 6-months post program completion.

Control Condition: There was no control condition in years 1 and 2. In year 3, the research team placed students randomly assigned to the control group on a wait-list to receive the intervention after the pilot study was completed.

Key Measures: The researchers developed measures of implementation fidelity in the first two years to be used for the pilot study. The researchers measured student proximal outcomes of confidence and connectedness with supportive adults (the Positive Youth Development scale), goal-setting and decision-making ability (Kuperminc's scales), and future orientations (the Possible Selves measure). They measured distal student outcomes of academic engagement (Student's Achievement-Related Actions in the Classroom), academic self-efficacy (Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey), effort (Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire), behavior (e.g., the Disruptive Behavior Scale, office discipline referrals and attendance) and academic performance (e.g., grades, standardized test scores).

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers coded interview, focus group, and ethnographic observation data for etic and emic themes. The researchers used path analysis to analyze changes in student proximal outcomes. They are using structural equation modeling to determine whether changes in proximal outcomes immediately following the intervention mediate program impact on academic outcomes at the end of the school year.

Project website:


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Albright, J. N., Hurd, N. M., and Hussain, S. B. (2017). Applying a Social Justice Lens to Youth Mentoring: A Review of the Literature and Recommendations for Practice. American Journal of Community Psychology, 59(3–4), 363–381.