Fostering a Sense of Community in the Classroom Lowers Alcohol and Marijuana Use and Delinquency

    • November 1, 2000

From 1991 through 1998, the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, Calif., developed a large-scale trial of an elementary school model called the Child Development Project (CDP).

The model rests on the proposition that elementary school learning can be modified in ways to help prevent some problem behaviors, including substance abuse, and that once a school has adopted the needed teaching changes, its changes can be replicated by other schools in its district.

Key Results

  • By the end of the grants, five of the 12 project elementary schools achieved widespread positive changes relative to CDP guidelines.

  • As reported in Journal of Primary Prevention, fifth and sixth graders assessed in the five project schools showed a higher average sense of community and significantly lower alcohol and marijuana use and delinquency, relative to students in comparison schools in the same districts.

  • Overall, findings suggest that when students experience their schools as communities where they feel like valued, contributing members, their resiliency may be enhanced.

  • CDP implementation was judged unsuccessful in seven schools. Factors cited by researchers included the complexity of the changes sought, turnover among teachers and district staff, teacher burnout, pressure to rely on standardized testing as a measure of student development, and pressure to maintain discipline punitively.

  • With funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), DSC is completing a follow-up study tracking the development of four successive cohorts of elementary school children from the trial through their middle school years. Initial findings show broad positive effects in school-related attitudes but no strong effects on substance abuse.

Afterward: In partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and with seed funding from the US Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), a $2.8 million grant from the RWJF for Phase I (ID# 026415) and a second $400,000 grant (ID# 052119) for dissemination, DSC also is promoting a decentralized, two-phase implementation process in 190 elementary schools nationwide, to be coordinated by 14 regional training sites using a train-the-trainers approach.