The Importance of Prevention
The goals of Project Northland are to delay the age when young people begin drinking, reduce alcohol use among young people who have already tried drinking, and limit the number of alcohol-related problems of young people. Alcohol is the focus of the Project Northland program because it is the drug of choice of American teenagers and inflicts the most harm during this age period.
The programs of Project Northland provide state-of-the-art prevention
materials for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. These programs invite
participation and experiential learning at home and in the classroom.
Project Northland has been shown to be effective in delaying and
reducing alcohol use among young adolescents in the largest and most rigorous
alcohol use prevention trial ever funded by the National Institute on
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Furthermore, among those students who had
not begun using alcohol by the beginning of 6th grade, reports of cigarette
use and marijuana use were lower in those who participated in the Project
Northland prevention programs.
National statistics also point out the serious problems associated with
acute alcohol intoxication among teens. Nearly nine of ten teenage motor
vehicle crashes involve alcohol, and 51 percent of adolescent motor vehicle
fatalities involve youth with measurable blood alcohol levels. Besides
auto injuries, acts that are often connected to episodes of acute alcohol
intoxication include homicide and suicide, which are the leading causes
of death among adolescents.
Research on adolescent alcohol and drug use suggests that factors within
a teen's social environment, personality, and behavior are all important
determinants of substance use. Alcohol and other drug use is viewed as
the result of a complex interaction of influences at each of these levels.
Alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use can be thought of as socially learned
behaviors which serve specific functions and purposes for adolescents.
Specifically, alcohol and other drug use may offer an opportunity to challenge
parental and societal authorities, to demonstrate autonomy and independence,
to be accepted by a peer group, or simply to relieve the stresses of growing
The social environment provides the necessary conditions for adolescent alcohol use. Environmental influences include behaviors of respected role models, social support from family and friends, and home, school, and community-level policies and practices. These influences create opportunities or barriers to use alcohol or nondrug alternatives. Numerous studies have documented the strong influence of peers and family members on teens' alcohol use. It has been shown that if close friends or family members drink alcohol, an adolescent is likely to drink in a similar manner or under similar circumstances. In addition, teens who believe their peers support use, or that family members do not discourage their use, are more likely to drink than teens who do not have these beliefs.
School and community-level actions also play a key role in promoting
or discouraging alcohol use among teens. For example, the short-lived
success of some past classroom programs to reduce adolescent alcohol use
may be due in part to a lack of integration of these programs with other
community programs and policies which address advertising and availability
of alcohol to youth. In one of Project Northland's research studies, we
found that school and community norms and role models for alcohol use
provided nearly half the explanation of why young adolescents drink.
The SLICK TRACY HOME TEAM PROGRAM
involves four classroom sessions plus classroom time to prepare for the
SLICK TRACY POSTER FAIR. Each session
is about 20 to 30 minutes. The AMAZING
ALTERNATIVES! and POWERLINES
curricula are divided into eight classroom sessions designed to be taught
once or twice per week over four to eight consecutive weeks. Each session
involves approximately 45 minutes of class time.
The SLICK TRACY HOME TEAM PROGRAM brings 6th grade students together with their families to complete fun and educational activities at home. Using activity books, this four-week program provides a forum for 6th graders and their families to discuss alcohol-related issues.
A central story presented through comic strips, activities, tips for parents, and a scorecard of participation, along with prizes awarded for participation, make this curriculum an easy and fun way for families to discuss the serious issue of alcohol. Along with the home-based program is the SLICK TRACY POSTER FAIR, during which 6th grade students present their own alcohol-related research projects to their parents and the community.
What makes these curricula successful?
All Project Northland curricula use prevention education which has been successfully implemented in a variety of settings. Home-based correspondence programs which involve parents have been well received by families in other health programs similar to Project Northland.
Two prevention research projects at the University of Minnesota involved
looking at the importance of involving parents through a home-based program.
The first sought changes in healthy eating habits in order to prevent
heart disease. The second was a program designed to prevent kids from
starting to smoke cigarettes. Both studies showed that involving parents
through home programs can achieve high parental participation and promote
positive behavior change in young people. During the Project Northland
study, nearly 90 percent of parents participated in the home-based programs.
It has been our intention to create curricula that are friendly to teachers, interesting to students, and effective in preventing alcohol use.
Importance of Starting with the First Program in Sixth Grade
Project Northland curricula for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades provide a sustained and comprehensive prevention program for underage drinking during the middle school years. Each program builds upon materials presented and learned during the first year. For example, peer leaders are introduced in sixth grade and given even more training-and responsibilities in the seventh and eighth grades.
Time Capsules are completed by students during each Project Northland program and are returned to them at the beginning of the seventh and eighth grade programs. Therefore, successful implementation of Project Northland requires that students begin the program when they are in sixth grade, and continue with the programs in seventh and eighth grades. We do not recommend starting the program with a class of seventh or eighth graders who have not participated in the previous Project Northland programs; such students may not have the skills or information that was developed and learned during the previous years. Individual students who have transferred to the school, however, can quickly be brought up to date by classmates who have consistently participated.
Role of the Teacher
The role of the teacher is critical to this curriculum. The materials are designed to permit student- and peer leader-directed activities where possible, but the teacher must guide the process to ensure that the lesson plans are followed as presented. The teacher's enthusiasm makes a big difference in the effectiveness of the programs.
Role of the Peer Leaders
While teachers are effective sources of factual information for students,
same-age peers are among the most credible sources of social information
concerning alcohol use. Project Northland incorporates this principle
-- many of the small group activities within the curricula are led by
students who have been selected by their peers. These peer leaders facilitate
small group discussions, report students' views to the class, lead role
play activities, and organize and lead small group community projects.
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