Program

Dec 17, 2010

OVERVIEW

Project ALERT is a school-based program designed to prevent and reduce substance use in adolescents. The majority of program lessons are administered during one school year, and are supplemented by three booster sessions in the following year. Program components include teacher-administered lessons, older teen leadership, role-playing, and instructional videos. Experimental evaluation of the original version of the program – with 8 as opposed to the current 11 first-year lessons – shows that participation in Project ALERT produced short-term decreases in alcohol and cigarette use, and particularly in marijuana use and initiation of use. These behavioral changes diminished in high school, however, suggesting that the original 11-session program design did not produce long-term effects.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Middle school students (grades 6, 7 and/or 8)

Project ALERT, originated in the early 1980’s, is a two-year drug prevention program integrated into middle schools to (a) keep students who are nonusers from starting to use drugs, and (b) reduce or prevent frequent or regular use of drugs by those who are users or experimenters (Ellickson, 1998). The program is designed to promote resistance and refusal skills and perceptions of self-efficacy, and to change perceptions of drug use. Project ALERT specifically targets four “gateway drugs”: alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and inhalants.

The Project ALERT program is currently comprised of 14 45-minute in-school lessons. The first 11 sessions are given during the first program year. The final three lessons are given during the second program year as booster lessons. The Project ALERT lessons are administered by teachers who have received a one-day workshop or online training. Older teen leaders – trained high school students – are also sometimes involved in the program. These teens assist the teacher in giving the lessons, role-play to model behaviors taught in the program, and provide enthusiasm for the program. Videos are also used as teaching aides, with lessons on drinking, peer pressure, social pressure to using drugs, resisting pressure, practicing resistance skills, smoking cessation and the benefits of not using drugs (Best Foundation, 2002).

The Project ALERT curriculum is designed with five key assumptions: (a) that adolescents start using drugs due to social influences; (b) that drug prevention needs to help teens develop the motivation to resist drugs, not simply to learn resistance skills; (c) that drug prevention programs need to target “gateway drugs”; (d) that adolescent behavior is largely based on the modeled behaviors of admired others such as older students; and (e) that prevention programs are most effective when adolescents are actively involved in the learning process by using role playing, question and answer sessions, small group discussions and other active interactions with peers and teachers. To address these assumptions, the curriculum uses many strategies such as modeling appropriate behavior, reinforcement of skills and active student participation (Best Foundation, 2002).

· Number of Children/Teens in Program: Over 20,000 teachers in ¼ of the school districts in the United States use the Project ALERT model. These 2,600 school districts are located in all parts of the United States. The program serves approximately 1 million children annually. · Length: 14 sessions are implemented over the course of two years during middle school. · Intensity: Each lesson is 45 minutes long and taught once a week in consecutive weeks. The first 11 lessons are taught in year one and the three booster lessons are taught in the second year of the program. · Service Delivery Mode: Mostly within classroom settings, however some schools have implemented it as an after-school program.

Training for teachers, including teacher’s manual, videos, posters, and handouts, costs $150 per teacher.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM
Ellickson, P. L. (1998). Preventing adolescent substance abuse: Lessons from the Project ALERT program. In J. Crane (Ed.), Social programs that work. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Ellickson, P. L., Bell, R. M. & McGuigan, K. (1993). Preventing adolescent drug use: Long-term results of a junior high program. American Journal of Public Health, 83(6), 856-861.
Ellickson, P.L. & Bell, R. M. (1990). Drug prevention in junior high: A multi-site longitudinal test. Science, 247, 1299-1305.

Evaluated population: Complete study data were collected from roughly 4,000 students at 30 schools in California and Oregon. (The baseline sample was roughly 6,500 7th-graders.)

Approach: Many evaluations of Project ALERT are based on an earlier version of the program that had 11 lessons (as opposed to the current 14). The first eight lessons were given to 7th-grade students with the remaining three booster lessons in eighth grade. The focus of the original program did not include inhalants – just alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes. To date, there has not been an experimental evaluation of the 14-lesson Project ALERT program.

An evaluation was conducted on the original 11-lesson program and followed students from program participation through twelfth grade. The evaluation was conducted as part of the pilot test of the Project ALERT program. The design was experimental and data were analyzed at the school-wide level. Thirty schools in California and Oregon were selected to participate in the evaluation. Schools were randomly assigned to a control group or one of two program groups. Ten schools were assigned to each of the two program groups, and 10 schools were assigned to the control group. One program group utilized teen instructors in addition to teachers and the other program group used only teachers. The evaluation consisted of seven surveys administered at seven time points-before and after the first year of program participation and then once per year during the five years following program participation. In addition, saliva samples were collected at the same time points from participating students and analyzed for recent drug use. Less than 1 percent of students in the schools did not consent to participate in the study.

Results: At the one-year follow-up, roughly 4,000 students were assessed. The researchers examined the effects of the attrition rate on internal validity and found that attrition did not affect the experiment’s internal validity. It was found that attrition rates and characteristics of the students lost were similar across all three groups.

The researchers concluded that the program successfully curbed marijuana, alcohol and cigarette use as measured immediately after the first year of the program. The greatest effects were on marijuana use. As compared with students in the control group, students in the two program groups were 30 percent less likely to have ever tried marijuana, and they were 50 to 60 percent less likely to have used marijuana in the past month. The program had smaller significant effects on alcohol and cigarette use. The effect for the group with teen instructors was similar to the group with only teachers. The researchers also found the program to be equally effective in low-income and high-income schools. However, follow-up data showed that program effects had worn off in high school, after the program had ended.

In addition to the evaluation of the pilot test of Project ALERT, two other replications are currently being implemented. Both of these studies are of experimental design and are currently in the process of collecting data (St. Pierre, forthcoming; Stein-Seroussi, forthcoming).

Bell, R.M., Ellickson, P.L., & Harrison, E.R. (1993). Do drug prevention effects persist into high school?: How project ALERT did with ninth graders. Preventative Medicine, 22, 463-483.

Evaluated Populations: Complete study data were collected from roughly 4,800 students at 30 schools in California and Oregon. (The baseline sample was roughly 6,500 7th-graders.)

Approach: An evaluation was conducted on the original 11-lesson program and followed students from program participation through twelfth grade. The evaluation was conducted as part of the pilot test of the Project ALERT program. The design was experimental and data were analyzed at the school-wide level. Thirty schools in California and Oregon were selected to participate in the evaluation. Schools were randomly assigned to a control group or one of two program groups. Ten schools were assigned to each of the two program groups, and 10 schools were assigned to the control group. One program group utilized teen instructors in addition to teachers and the other program group used only teachers.

The evaluation consisted of five questionnaires administered in the classroom at five time points – before and after the delivery of both the 7th and 8th grade curriculum, and once during the 9th grade. Less than 1 percent of students in the schools did not consent to participate in the study.

Results: This program positively impacted students’ beliefs and attitudes about drug use At the 9th grade follow-up, students in the teen instructor condition experienced stronger effects of this program than students in the teacher only condition or the control group. Those students in the teacher only program did see modest improvements compared with the control group, but results were not as significant as those with both a teen and an adult teacher.

Students in the teen instructor program demonstrated a reduced frequency of pro-drug beliefs. Compared with those in the control group, students in the teen instructor program were much less likely to believe that cigarette or marijuana use would have social benefits or fail to have social harms. Students in this condition also saw improvements in perceptions of peer reactions to drug use and felt more able to resist drug offers. Students in the program group taught only by an adult, saw similar, although less significant results.

Across both conditions and for all risk groups, substance use did not seem to be impacted by this program. Those in the teen instructor group continued to have lower levels of substance use, but the findings were not significant, or too inconsistent to determine a strong correlation.

Compared with early years of this program, the effects seem to wear off over time. Those in the teen instructor condition experienced more sustained beliefs, but all groups exhibited an erosion in actual substance use by ninth grade. This program seems to be most effective when the instructions are consistently reinforced throughout multiple years.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Website : http://www.projectalert.com/

References:

Best Foundation. (2002). Project ALERT implementation. Retrieved Aug 20, 2002 from http://www.projectalert.best.org/pdfs/implementation.pdf

Ellickson, P. L. (1998). Preventing adolescent substance abuse: Lessons from the Project ALERT program. In J. Crane (Ed.), Social programs that work. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Ellickson, P.L. & Bell, R. M. (1990). Drug prevention in junior high: A multi-site longitudinal test. Science, 247, 1299-1305.
Ellickson, P. L., Bell, R. M. & McGuigan, K. (1993). Preventing adolescent drug use: Long-term results of a junior high program. American Journal of Public Health, 83(6), 856-861.

RAND Foundation. (1998). Helping adolescents resist drugs: Project ALERT. Research Highlights, RB-4518. Retrieved Aug 20, 2002 from http://www.rand.org/publications/RB/RB4518/

St. Pierre, T. L. (forthcoming). Project ALERT replication study: Penn State cooperative extension and school collaborations. Retrieved Aug 21, 2002 from http://www.projectalert.best.org/pdfs/overview_exsels.pdf

Stein-Seroussi, A. (forthcoming). State incentive grant and Project ALERT provide relief to hurricane-stricken county. Retrieved Aug 21, 2002 from http://www.projectalert.best.org/pdfs/overview_sig.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2002). Project ALERT. SAMHSA Model Programs. Retrieved Aug 20, 2002, from http://www.projectalert.best.org/pdfs/overview.pdf

Website:  http://www.projectalert.best.org/

Program also discussed in the following Child Trends publication(s):

Hatcher, J. L. & Scarpa, J. (2001). Background for community-level work on physical health and safety in adolescence: Reviewing the literature on contributing factors. Washington, DC, Child Trends.

Hatcher, J. L. & Scarpa, J. (2002). Encouraging teens to adopt a safe, healthy lifestyle: A foundation for improving future adult behaviors (Research brief). Washington , DC : Child Trends.

Zaff, J. F. & Calkins, J. (2001). Background for community-level work on mental health and externalizing disorders in adolescence: Reviewing the literature on contributing factors. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

Zaff, J. F., Calkins, J., Bridges, L. J., & Margie, N. (2002). Promoting positive mental and emotional health in teens: Some lessons from research (Research brief). Washington , DC : Child Trends.

SUMMARY & CATEGORIZATION

Program categorized in this guide according to the following:

Evaluated participant ages: 7th-graders / Program age ranges in the Guide: 12-14

Program components: school-based

Measured outcomes: behavioral problems

KEYWORDS: School-Based, Substance Use, Adolescence (12-17), Alcohol Use, Tobacco Use, Behavioral Problems, Middle School, Skills Training, Marijuana Use, Urban, Rural, Suburban, White or Caucasian, Cost, Manual.

Program information last updated 12/17/10.