The Research Behind our Evidence-Based Programs
Student Leadership Services has synthesized prevention, education, youth development and social/emotional learning (SEL) research into an interactive and peer-led program utilizing grass-roots efforts and community partnerships. SLS fills a void in public education requirements in Michigan that involve very little instruction about alcohol, tobacco (vaping) and other drugs (ATOD). Most students receive one credit of Health during their Freshman year of high school. State-wide surveys of youth indicate that binge drinking, marijuana and tobacco (vaping) use typically doubles from 9th to 11th grade and in some counties, ATOD use quadruples during these years. Youth substance use is correlated with disengagement from school, both academically and in extra-curricular activities, and spreading acceptance of ATOD use among their peers.
We are innovative in our student-focused approach that actively engages youth to develop into competent, skilled and caring young people in middle school and high school with support of adult advisors. Our programming and training provides opportunities for bonding (e.g. SLS retreats and state-wide student advisory board), skill development (e.g., planning school-wide assemblies and community service projects) and mentoring (e.g., high school students are invited to become educated about how to teach groups of elementary and middle school students about the risks of ATOD). This methodology is predicated on specific research data on youth development and the principles of social psychology which contend that people tend to act in accordance with roles and expectations (Zimbardo, Bandura, et al.), and the recognition that substance abuse problems do not develop in a vacuum but rather are part of a continuum of problems that may encompass social alienation, poor academic performance, low self-esteem, and hopelessness about the future.
The SLS approach to students is profoundly positive and focused on fun, creating friendships and a sense of belonging for students to develop as healthy youth who are physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and intellectually at their best, while at the same time, learning about the risks of ATOD use. The goal is to delay, deter and eliminate the onset of use of alcohol and other drugs among middle and high school-aged youth. Youth are not passive recipients of this program, on the contrary, they are considered core, collaborative partners.
In 2011 Student Leadership Services received the SAMHSA Service to Science Award. Then, in 2013 we received the SAMHSA Building Evaluation Capacity for Evidence-Based Interventions grant to do an evaluation of our Students Leading Students program. This long-term study took place from 2011-2018 and was led by Lisa Ficker, PhD, from Wayne State University. Twenty-three high schools across Michigan participated and findings were reported across seven different outcomes.
Evaluation Findings by Outcome
General Substance Use: Less likely to have used ATOD in the past 30 days and in their lifetime.
Knowledge, Attitudes and Beliefs About Substance Use: More informed about ATOD. More confident to recognize and resist peer pressure.
School Engagement: More likely to have positive feelings about school.
Social Competence: More comfortable using leadership skills in the classroom and school. More involved in community service.
Disruptive Disorders and Behaviors: Less likely to be the bully and less likely to send inappropriate social media/texts. More likely to demonstrate safe driving behaviors.
Family Cohesion: No statistically significant differences between groups in level of family support.
Victimization and Maltreatment: Less likely to be the bully and less likely to send inappropriate social media.
SLS programs, services, and validated outcomes (as noted above) are aligned with the goals of national and state health, safety and education organizations and evidence-based practices in youth development, prevention, and education.