Development of Project DREAM: An After-School Program to Promote Academic Success via Social and Emotional Learning and Connectedness with Adults
Co-Principal Investigator: Nancy Deutsch
Purpose: In this study, researchers will develop and test an afterschool prevention program. The program is 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 many students from disadvantaged backgrounds 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) will provide an afterschool setting in which middle school students work with a non-parental adult from their family, school or community. Students will 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.
Project Activities: In Years 1 and 2, the researchers will iteratively develop the program in partnership with key stakeholders to create meaningful and feasible program content and procedures. In Year 3, researchers will randomly assign 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.
Products: The research team will generate a fully developed afterschool mentoring program, Project DREAM, to help disengaged adolescents develop strong social and emotional competencies and relationships with supportive non-parental adults to promote success at school. In addition, the researchers will produce evidence of the program's acceptability, usability, feasibility, fidelity of implementation and promise for improving targeted student outcomes. Researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.
Setting: This study will take place in an urban/suburban region of Virginia.
Sample: Students who do not have supportive relationships with non-parental adults and school staff in three middle schools will participate in this project. These students, their parents, adults from the community, and school staff will participate in focus groups and interviews during the first two project years. Approximately 10 students from one middle school and 10 non-parental adults will participate in Year 1 program implementation to inform development. Twenty students and non-parental adults from another middle school will participate in implementation in Year 2. About 200 students from across these two middle schools and an additional middle school and 100 non-parental adults will participate in the pilot study in Year 3. Participating students' English Language Arts' teachers will also participate 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 school staff members. The program consists of eight 2-hour sessions that meet weekly. Adolescents attend the sessions with a 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 will be 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 will include detailed instructions and scripts for school staff who supervise the afterschool sessions.
Research Design and Methods: The researchers will use 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 will work with the researchers over the first two years of the project. These stakeholders will provide feedback on program content, usability, and feasibility through advisory boards, focus groups, interviews, and ethnographic observations of sessions. In the first year, researchers will implement the program sessions using school staff trained by the researchers. In the second year, previously trained school staff will train new school staff to facilitate the sessions to establish usable and feasible procedures for a "train the trainers" model. In Year 3, the researchers will conduct 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 will measure student outcomes at baseline, one week after the 8-week program, and at the end of the academic year.
Control Condition: The research team will place students randomly assigned to the control group on a wait-list to receive the intervention after the pilot study is completed.
Key Measures: The researchers will develop measures of implementation fidelity in the first two years to be used for the pilot study. The researchers will measure 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 will measure 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 will code interview, focus group, and ethnographic observation data for etic and emic themes. The researchers will use analysis of covariance to analyze changes in student proximal outcomes to generate effect size estimates. They will use 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.
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.