Program Goals/Target Population
Reconnecting Youth is a school-based prevention program that targets underachieving students at risk of dropping out. The three primary program goals are to:
- increase school performance (reflected by decreases in truancy and increases in grade point averages [GPA])
- decrease drug involvement
- improve mood management (reflected by decreases in depression, anger, and anxiety)
The class concentrates on skills training within the context of adult and peer support. The class aims to help at-risk youth strengthen protective factors while reducing suicide and other related risk factors in four primary areas: school, peers, family, and self.
The program targets students in grades 9 through 12 who show signs of poor school achievement and potential for dropping out of high school (low grades and absenteeism) and who exhibit other problem behaviors such as substance abuse, depression, and suicidal ideation. Students who are eligible to participate in Reconnecting Youth are identified from among set criteria:
- The student is behind in credits for a grade level, is in the highest 25th percentile for absences, and has a GPA below 2.3.
- The student has a prior dropout status.
- The student is referred by school personnel and meets one or more of the criteria in point 1.
The Reconnecting Youth class consists of 10 to 12 students and incorporates social support and life-skills training into a daily, semester-long class using a 75-lesson curriculum. The class is part of the high school curriculum, and students are usually invited (but are not required) to participate in the class. Students who do take part in Reconnecting Youth receive course credit for participating.
The Reconnecting Youth class is a theory-based intervention that incorporates components of strain, social learning, and social control theories into an integrated model. The class concentrates on two essential components: social support and life-skills training. The social support elements framing the program are 1) a network component built on prosocial relationship bonds emerging between the teacher and students and within the intervention peer group, and 2) a social support process derived from the group interaction processes and life-skills training. The life-skills training consists of four elements: self-esteem enhancement, decision-making, personal control, and interpersonal communication. Each unit’s presentation is sequenced, beginning with skill introduction, skill development, application, and finally skill transfer and relapse prevention. Problem-related skills are also included in each unit and are applied to the central program goals, such as increasing mood management to decrease depression, suicide risk behavior, and anger control problems.
The Reconnecting Youth Leader who runs the class (usually a school staff member who excels at working with high-risk youth and has completed the Reconnecting Youth training module) monitors class attendance, school achievement, moods, drug involvement, and social interactions. The Reconnecting Youth Leader also helps establish drug-free social activities and friendships.
Additional Information: Negative Program Effects
A randomized controlled trial (described below in Evaluation Methodology and Outcomes) compared high-risk youth in high school who participated in the Reconnecting Youth program to high-risk youth who did not participate in the program. At the 6-month follow-up, the program was found to have had significant negative effects on measures of conventional peer bonding and peer high-risk behavior, and had no significant effects on measures of delinquency, alcohol use, smoking, GPA, anger, and school connectedness.
Cho, Hallfors, and Sanchez (2005) conducted a randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of the Reconnecting Youth program on high-risk students. This 2005 study was designed to replicate earlier efficacy trials conducted on the program (Eggert, Seyi, and Nicholas 1990; Eggert et al. 1994), but to go a step further by examining the program’s effect in a real-world setting.
Students were recruited from nine high schools in two large urban school districts. One school was in a large city in the Southwest (Site A) and the other school was in a large metropolis on the Pacific coast (Site B). Students were eligible to participate if they were at high risk for school dropout (i.e., students in the top 25 percent for truancy and bottom 50 percent for GPA, or students referred by a school teacher or counselor). A total of 1,218 high-risk students participated in the study from 2002–03. In Site A, 532 students were randomly assigned to the experimental group (n=269) or the control group (n=263). In Site B, 686 students were randomly assigned to the experimental group (n=346) or control group (n=340).
In Site A, 87 percent of the district students were Hispanic, 9 percent were black, and 4 percent were white. In Site B, 40 percent of district students were Asian/Pacific Islander, 21 percent were Hispanic, 14 percent were black, 10 percent were white, and 15 percent were American Indian or other race. About half of sample from each site was male. Youth were in 9th, 10th, or 11th grade, with an average age of 15 years. There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on baseline characteristics, except for truancy and cigarette smoking, which was slightly higher in the experimental group.
Data was collected from students using a three-part instrument called the High School Questionnaire (Eggert et al. 1994). Outcome variables included achievement and attendance, substance use, problem behaviors, peer affiliation patterns, and student connection to school.
Individuals were the unit of analysis. Pre- and posttest outcome changes were compared between all experimental and control group study participants using intent-to-treat analysis. Program effects were analyzed with analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) using general linear models (GLM), which controlled for the outcome value at baseline as well as for sex, grade, and school. Outcomes from the immediate post-intervention and the 6-month follow-up were examined.
One limitation of the study was attrition. Although a total of 615 students were randomly assigned to participate in the program, only 300 experimental students actually enrolled (49 percent of all randomly assigned experimental students). Experimental students who enrolled in the Reconnecting Youth classes, compared to those who were not enrolled, were younger, had lower GPAs and conventional peer bonding, and had higher affiliation with high-risk peers (all differences were significant at p<0.05).
Overall, Cho, Hallfors, and Sanchez (2005) found that the Reconnecting Youth program had a significant negative effect on conventional peer bonding at the immediate post-intervention follow-up and significant negative effects on conventional peer bonding and peer high-risk behavior at the 6-month follow-up. There was no significant impact on any other outcome measure, but the results did vary by site. Results were considered significant if the p-value was 0.05 or less (which means the probability that the difference between the treatment group and control group is due to chance is less than 5 percent).
There was a positive, though nonsignificant effect on delinquency at the immediate post-intervention follow-up. However, this effect faded by the 6-month follow-up.
Conventional Peer Bonding
The results showed there was a significant (p<0.05) negative effect for the experimental group compared with the control group on measures of conventional peer bonding at the immediate post-intervention and the 6-month follow-up.
Peer High-Risk Behavior
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on measures of peer high-risk behavior at the immediate post-intervention follow-up. However, at the 6-month follow-up, there was a significant (p<0.05) negative effect for the experimental group compared with the control group.
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on alcohol use at the immediate post-intervention and 6-month follow-ups.
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on smoking at the immediate post-intervention and 6-month follow-ups.
Grade Point Average (GPA)
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups’ GPAs at the immediate post-intervention and 6-month follow-ups.
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on measures of anger at the immediate post-intervention and 6-month follow-ups.
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on measures of school connectedness at the immediate post-intervention and 6-month follow-ups.