Program Goal/Target Population
Across Ages is a mentoring initiative designed to increase the resiliency and protective factors of at-risk middle school youths through a comprehensive intergenerational approach. The overall goal is substance use prevention. At-risk youth generally come from neighborhoods characterized by poverty and high rates of substance use, drug-related crime, and unemployment.
The basic concept of the program is to pair older adult volunteers (55 and older) with students (10 to 13 years old) to create a special bonding relationship. The project also uses community service activities, provides a classroom-based life skills curriculum, and offers parent-training workshops.
Mentors: Older mentors—by acting as advocates, challengers, nurturers, role models, and friends—help youth develop the awareness, self-confidence, and skills they need to abstain from drug use and overcome other obstacles. The mentor is expected to spend at least 4 hours each week with their assigned youth. Activities include working on homework or school projects, going to sports events or cultural activities, or selecting a community service activity to work on together. Mentors and mentees meet year round.
Community Service: The community service component focuses on interactions with frail elders. For instance, students are expected to make biweekly visits to nursing homes where they visit with residents for an hour. Students record their experiences in journals and share this information in class.
Classroom Curriculum: The classroom component is built on a Positive Youth Development curriculum, which promotes social competence. The curriculum teaches life and resistance skills through didactic instruction, videotapes, journals, role-playing, and homework assignments.
Parent Workshops: Events for parents, youth, and mentors are scheduled on weekends. To encourage participation, a meal and entertainment are usually provided. When possible, free transportation is provided. Mentors are also encouraged to maintain contact with parents through mail and phone calls.
LoSciuto and colleagues (1996) evaluated the Across Ages program using a randomized pretest/posttest control group design. Pretest and posttest data were collected at the beginning and end of each academic year from 1991 through 1994. Each year the same three Philadelphia, Pa., urban middle schools participated in the program. Experimental and control groups were randomly selected from among the sixth grade classes whose teachers agreed to participate in the program. Classes were assigned to one of three groups: Group C was the control group and received no intervention; Group PS was an experimental group that participated in the classroom-based life skills curriculum, performed community service, and had parent workshops; and Group MPS participated in the classroom-based life skills curriculum, performed community service, had parent workshops, and received mentoring from older adults.
The evaluation research tested the hypothesis that students in the treatment groups would demonstrate more positive outcomes on the posttest than those in the control group and that the most multifaceted approach (MPS) would result in the most positive change. Instruments included measures of drug use; well-being; problem-solving efficacy; and attitudes toward school, elders, the future, and community service.
Of the 729 students completing the pretest, 562 also completed the posttest. The sample was 53 percent female, 52.2 percent African-American, 15.8 percent white, 9.1 percent Asian-American, 9.0 percent Hispanic, and 13.9 percent “other.” The three groups had no significant demographic differences at baseline, nor did they differ significantly on attrition (23 percent for Group C; 22 percent for Group PS, and 25 percent for Group MPS).
Attitudes toward School, Future, and Elders
LoSciuto and colleagues (1996) found a small, statistically significant positive effect of the Across Ages program for the experimental group that participated in the classroom-based life skills curriculum, performed community service, had parent workshops, and received mentoring from older adults (Group MPS) compared to the control group (d = 0.22).
The groups did not differ significantly on measures of well-being.
Reactions to Situations Involving Drug Use
The program had a small, statistically significant positive effect on the MPS group compared to the control group (d = 0.22).
Frequency of Substance Use
There was no significant difference in frequency of substance use between the MPS and control groups.
The MPS group had significantly fewer absences from school than did the control and PS groups (d = 0.22).