PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience
How PROSPER Works
PROSPER is a model for bringing evidence-based prevention programs to schools and communities with the goal of strengthening families, building youth skills, and reducing youth substance use as well as other problem behaviors. PROSPER programs are led by community teams made up of representatives from Penn State Extension, school district personnel, representatives from community service agencies, parents, youth, and other community members.
PROSPER offers participating communities a menu of proven evidence-based programs. Teams implement one extra-curricular family-based program for sixth graders (the Strengthening Families Program 10–14). Community teams also select one of three school-based pro-grams for seventh-grade students during the day (e.g., All Stars, Life Skills Training, and Lions Quest).
PROSPER communities also have the option to adopt the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) program for elementary students in grades K–5. PATHS improves classroom climate and management skills by helping students with self-control and problem solving, and helping teachers with positive classroom management strategies.
PROSPER Is Working for Kids and Families!
Evidence-based programs on the PROS-PER menu have shown a wide range of positive outcomes, including higher academic success, higher levels of school engagement, less hostility and aggression, less delinquency, lower levels of anxiety and depression, and lower levels of alcohol and substance use.
PROSPER teaches skills and attitudes that foster improved family life and parent-child communication and provides students with skills for planning, problem solving, and peer resistance against problem behaviors. Studies have shown that these protective factors help youth avoid sub-stance use and risk-taking behaviors.
According to recent study findings, PROS-PER is working! More than four years after receiving the PROSPER intervention, fewer eleventh graders in PROSPER communities reported ever using so-called gateway drugs (e.g., cigarettes, alcohol) and illicit drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine). This slower rate of substance initiation among PROSPER kids was also true for marijuana, inhalants, methamphetamines, and ecstasy. Youth in PROSPER communities were also less likely to have used drugs (marijuana and inhalants) in the last year compared to youth in control communities that were not in PROSPER. The most recent PROSPER results indicate that as young adults, youth in PROSPER communities are less likely to abuse prescription drugs.
PROSPER youth also report that their parents are using more consistent and less harsh discipline and that their time together as a family has improved (warmth and cohesion). They also have increased their family time activities.
Families involved in PROSPER keep coming back! PROSPER attendance rate for the family-based program averages 20 percent of all the eligible families in communities compared to 1–6 percent who attended similar prevention programs in other communities.
PROSPER communities have sustained the high-quality implementation of the programs associated with the PROSPER intervention. The PROSPER teams have garnered financial and in-kind support to continue and, in many cases, expand their work. Through their work with the PROSPER team, schools and extension have established themselves as a leading positive force for prevention.
Prevention Is Cost Effective for Communities
In addition, recent cost-benefit studies indicate that evidence-based prevention programs are economically beneficial to communities. Because there is a lower need for the use of the court system and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, evidence-based interventions like those used in PROSPER communities save money. Past research on PROSPER family interventions suggests that for every $1.00 the community spends on prevention programming, they are potentially saving $9.60. This savings represents money that would have been spent on special education, mental health, and drug and alcohol treatment services.
We Cover the Map
Originally, PROSPER began as a research study in seven Pennsylvania communities serving approximately 3,000 youth. As of 2010, PROSPER has expanded to 12 communities from Jim Thorpe, to Brad-ford, to Salisbury, to Monessen, and all points in between. Approximately 5,000 youth in the Commonwealth are participating in PROSPER programming each year.
A Unique Team Effort with Good Partners and a Trusted Brand
University-level prevention scientists and extension specialists collaborate with a prevention coordinator, who functions as a liaison between the university prevention group and the local teams. These arrangements ensure local buy-in and quality program delivery. An extension educator leads the PROSPER team and oversees the project activities to make sure that programs are well received within schools and communities and implemented with the highest quality to promote maximum positive impact.
Success Attracts Support
PROSPER started in 2001. Unlike programs that disappear when their grants run out, extension keeps this program present and sustained at a high level.
Penn State Extension’s existing delivery infrastructure, combined with strong administrative support and stable staffing, has enabled the long-term sustainability of PROSPER and its expansion into new communities. Extension’s infrastructure uniquely enables it to provide proactive, ongoing assistance, which leads to high-quality programming and the ability to garner buy-in from local stakeholder champions. Extension’s leadership within the local PROSPER teams has provided long-term consistency and, ultimately, sustainability.
Over the past 12 years, PROSPER teams have raised more than $1 million to sup-port their local programming. These funds have come from a variety of sources ranging from federal grants to car washes.
It Keeps Working
Prevention programs that work are being delivered with quality, and they are producing measurable benefits in communities across the Commonwealth. A little help can go a long way. The PROSPER program helps kids, families, schools, and communities. PROSPER is a sound investment, especially since we are taking care of our most valuable resources—our kids.
PROSPER impact on schools with 300 students in ninth grade:
- 16 fewer students trying marijuana
- 12 fewer students trying cigarettes
- 9 fewer students trying inhalants
- 4 fewer students trying ecstasy
- 3 fewer trying meth
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