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Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs

Why Prevention Is Important

Prevention Programs and School Performance

According to the high school study noted above, "It is likely then, that if we were able to reduce the risk for alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, we would be better able to ensure academic success." (Jumper-Thurman, Bates and Plested)

In fact this is now happening. As more prevention programs are evaluated, evidence of academic improvement after prevention programming is growing rapidly. For example, the Florida Department of Education's Office of Safe Schools has published a bibliography of 32 selected programs that show this relationship. Each program showed improvements in one or more areas, including attendance, class participation, commitment to school, standardized test scores and grades.

While many of these programs focused directly on academic improvement, many others were originally designed for ATOD or violence prevention. In fact, ten of the 32 programs listed were originally funded by the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). The authors emphasize that theirs is not an exhaustive list- just a first look at another promising connection between prevention and school performance.

How do the ATOD and violence prevention programs achieve these results? Several programs emphasize stronger positive social networks for youth, while others focus on family strengthening or bonding. Some went beyond the family and school to make changes in the larger community. One project that focused on school and community health promotion had a significant effect on both academic skills and commitment to school.

Some of these effects could be due to the relationship we have known for some time: good schooling helps prevent ATOD problems. But it is increasingly clear that something more is going on. First, as noted above, if drug use were being reduced we would expect better school performance as a result. That is the premise of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools effort. Also, it is possible that prevention programs are providing elements of "good schooling" that have been lost or weakened in some schools. And perhaps some activities are good for both academics and problem prevention. This is likely since, to quote an author of the Florida study, "children are holistic beings and schools are, or should be, holistic environments." ("Bibliography of Drug Prevention Programs that Impact Academic Performance", Center and Gilmer, Florida Department of Education, December, 2000)

Another example of this broader approach to prevention and academics is the Developmental Assets Model. According to the Search Institute, the 40 Developmental Assets correlate very strongly with academic success. Again, some of these assets are specifically school-focused, but the researchers also note that:

  • The total number of a student's assets correlated with self-reported grades and with actual grades,

  • The effects of higher asset levels were stronger for the "most vulnerable youth,"

  • One study shows a relationship between total assets and standardized test scores; and

  • Higher asset levels may help decrease traditional gender differences in grades.

The five specific assets that seemed to make the most difference in self-reported grades included four that were not school-focused*:

  • * Achievement motivation

  • School engagement

  • *Time in youth programs

  • *Time at home, and

  • *Personal power.

Given that higher levels of developmental assets are also correlated with lower rates of ATOD use and violence, the assets approach seems to be a promising area to explore.
Sources:

  1. "Great Places to Learn: How Asset-Building Schools Help Students to Succeed", Search Institute, 1999

  2. "Developmental Assets: Measurement and Prediction of At-Risk Behaviors Among Adolescents" Leffert, et al, Applied Developmental Science, 1998; 2(4): 209-230

  3. "The Contribution of Developmental Assets to the Prediction of Thriving Outcomes Among Adolescents", Scales, et al, Applied Developmental Science, 2000, 4(1): 27-46.


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