Caring School Community Program Goes National with Focuses on Community Building to Promote Healthy Behaviors

Disseminating an Evidence-Based Elementary School Program to Reduce Unhealthy Youth Behaviors

Field of Work: Promoting healthy behaviors at school.

Problem Synopsis: Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicate, "Attachment to school and family serve as protective factors against drugs, alcohol use, and violence. The most powerful predictor of adolescent wellbeing is a feeling of connection to school." One of the few school reform efforts of the 1990s attempting to build such a sense of connectedness to school, and thereby promote healthy behaviors in adolescence, was the Child Development Project. RWJF funded an evaluation which found that, relative to the comparison schools, five of the Child Development Project schools achieved broad positive change, including significantly lower alcohol and marijuana use and delinquency among their students.

Synopsis of the Work: In the 1990s, researchers at the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, Calif., conducted a large-scale trial of an elementary school reform initiative called the Child Development Project, which attempted to build a sense of connectedness to school, and thereby promote healthy behaviors in adolescence. In a continuation of that project, the Developmental Studies Center disseminated nationwide a streamlined version of the project, now called the Caring School Community™ program, focused on community building as a critical part of the effort to make change in schools.

Key Results:

  • Some 396 schools, with an estimated 200,000 students, adopted the Caring School Community program.
  • The Developmental Studies Center reduced its dependence on philanthropic support for the program from 80 percent to 20 percent of program costs.

Key Findings: The federal Department of Education funded two independent evaluations of the Caring School Community program, in San Francisco and St. Louis. Among the findings:

  • Staff in the schools implementing the program reported significant positive change in students' feelings of belonging, compared to non-program schools. According to the evaluators, this result was important because most participating schools focused on students' sense of belonging as an improvement goal.
  • Evaluators found that students showed a substantial increase in a sense of classroom as a community in the schools that implemented the program compared to the schools that did not.
  • Evaluators found a 19 percent drop in discipline referrals in the implementation schools between 2005 and 2006. In the non-implementation group, there was a 12 percent increase in student discipline referrals.