Helping Adolescents Transition Into and Out of High School (3): How Schools provide the key
Schools Provide Key Knowledge and Skills to Help Students Address Risks and Succeed Academically
This is the third of a three-part series on helping adolescents transition through two significant transition periods, entering high school and graduating from high school. Part 1 described the nature of transitions and why they are so challenging. Part 2 provided some practical steps for parents and caregivers to take that can support students during this challenging time. Finally, this part focuses on the school and how prevention science provides opportunities to improve the high school experience not only for students but also school personnel.
Schools Are Important Socialization Agents
After the family, the school and school personnel represent the next most important socialization agent for children. The etiology model presented here (Sloboda, 2015) shows in a simple fashion the many influences on how we, as humans, develop our beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors under a variety of condition not only in our early developmental years but across our lifetimes (Kellam et al, 1975). These influencers are socialization agents and the influence process is termed socialization.
School-based Interventions Reach Students with Effective Knowledge and Skills
Over the past 30-40 years prevention science has developed and tested effective school-based interventions that have succeeded in preventing substance use and other risk behaviors. When schools and school personnel implement these interventions, they become effective socialization agents that provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to address the risks in their environment.. These interventions have been tested in randomized control trials as prevention programs for families and schools such as the Good Behavior Game, Triple P, Strengthening Families of Parents with Children 10-14, Raising Health Children, and LifeSkills Training. All of these evidence-based prevention programs are based on theories of etiology, human and cognitive development, and learning. For this reason, training is required of the instructors whether social workers, teachers, or family service workers. Fidelity of implementation to the design of the programs is important although as SAMHSA and prevention scientists agree ‘superficial’ adaptation can be done as long as it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the core elements of the program drawn from both logic models and mediation analyses (Castro et al., 2017).
A related, but separate problem is also occurring among teachers and other school personnel, that is, the sense of threats and overall feelings regarding the safety of the school environment, particularly in secondary schools (Irwin et al., 2021). A national survey of violence against educators and school personnel in the U.S. was conducted by the American Psychological Association Task Force’s Violence Against Educators and School Personnel (APA-VAESP) from July 2020 to June 2021 14,966 (9,370 teachers, 860 administrators, 1,499 school psychologists and social workers and 3,237 other school staff). When asked about how to address this problem, school personnel listed the need to support the mental health and well-being of school staff, to enhance school functioning addressing the needs of students and parents, improve educator preparation programs, and support federal policies. The recommendations made by the school personnel in the APA-VAESP are very much in keeping with research evidence that supports the effectiveness of comprehensive school-based health programs, with a focus on education, services, and school environment. (Osher & Berg; 2017).
These findings suggest the need for the development of a comprehensive and integrated prevention approach in the institution where adolescents spend much of their time, the school. The school is more than just a building or a place that educates children. The school context forms the link between home and the community and beyond. In addition to class time, the school reinforces the norms, beliefs, and behaviors that are acceptable to the larger community and thus prepares children for the time when they are adults and ready to participate and contribute to society. Bonding to family and school has been found to reduce vulnerabilities to protect children from engaging in risky behaviors. Therefore, school administrators need to understand the importance of structuring the school to create a positive experience for students and staff that would serve to enhance the bonding process and improve the overall health and well-being of adolescents and to promote academic performance, decrease absenteeism/truancy, and increase graduation rates from high school but also how to put such a program successfully in place and to sustain it over time.
Castro, F.G. & Yasui, M. (2017). Advances in EBI development for diverse populations: Towards a science of intervention adaptation, Prevention Science, 18(6), 623-629. doi: 10.1007/s11121-017-0809-x. PMID: 28620723; PMCID: PMC5667940.
Irwin, V., Wang, K., Cui, J., Zhang, J., & Thompson, A. (2021). Report on indicators of school crime and safety: 2020 (NCES 2021-092/NCJ 300772). National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC. Retrieved 05/12/2022 fromhttps://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2021092.
Kellam, S.G., Branch, J.D., Agrawal, K.C., & Ensminger, M.E. (1975). Mental health and going to school. The Woodlawn program of assessment, early intervention and evaluation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Chicago Press.