Innovative Approaches to Student Engagement in a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Research Study

In 2016, Future Foundation partnered with Fulton County Schools and Metis Associates to rigorously evaluate a model for preventing teen pregnancy among Atlanta’s most high-risk middle schoolers. Partners pioneered innovative approaches to keeping youth engaged throughout the five-year research study.

Authored by Michael Scuello, Donna Wilkens, Lisa Tillery, and William W. Green

When pre-adolescent and adolescent youth engage in risky behaviors such as fighting in school, getting in trouble at home, and abusing drugs and alcohol, their chances of engaging in sexual activity increase (Forehand, Gound, Kokchick, Armistead, Long & Miller, 2005). In 2016, Future Foundation, an Atlanta-based youth development agency, formed a partnership with Fulton County Schools, the local school system, and Metis Associates, an educational research firm. The partners sought to implement and rigorously assess the Second Family Model’s efficacy in preventing teen pregnancy among South Atlanta’s most high-risk middle schoolers.

With support from a five-year Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies (PREIS) grant awarded by the Family & Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), an office of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Future Foundation and its partners set out to test an innovative model to address teen pregnancy prevention, adolescent sexual health education, and adulthood preparation. The Second Family Model includes five interconnected core components:

  1. Year-round academic support
  2. Student screening and referrals delivered by licensed social workers
  3. Social-emotional learning and development
  4. Adolescent sexual health education
  5. Parent education workshops focused on improving family functioning

The Second Family Model PREIS research study, now in its fifth and final year, uses a randomized control trial (RCT) to determine the PREIS program’s impact on youth outcomes related to sexual behavior, adolescent health education, educational success, and adulthood preparation. The primary data collection tool used to assess these outcomes is the Youth Outcome Survey, which Metis Associates and Future Foundation developed based on existing validated instruments. Specifically, the Youth Outcome Survey measures:

  • Social-emotional learning
  • Sexual behavior and knowledge
  • Interpersonal strength
  • Affective strength
  • Family involvement
  • School functioning

Over three academic years, 816 students were assigned to treatment (N=413) and control (N=403) conditions. Three cohorts of treatment students received the Second Family model core services for one full year. In contrast, control students in all three cohorts did not receive any programming related to the model. For both groups, however, student progress on outcomes was measured with the Youth Outcome Surveys at four intervals: at baseline (e.g., pre-program at the time of randomization), immediately after programming, and in three-month and six-month follow-up periods.

In the second year of the study, Future Foundation staff planned monthly activities with treatment AND control students to ensure engagement. These monthly activities were supported by both the PREIS grant and additional donations from Future Foundation donors and partners. A full-time Community Engagement Manager (CEM) served as a liaison between Future Foundation, study youth, parents of participating students, and target school administrators and staff. The CEM, in collaboration with other PREIS program staff, developed and carried out a comprehensive plan for using innovative approaches to promoting youth engagement in the PREIS research study:

  • Monthly Holiday Events
  • Youth-Focused Field Trips
  • Attendance Incentives
  • Tokens of Appreciation
  • Data Collection Events
  • Summer Engagement Activities
  • Future Foundation Store
  • Entertainment-In-A-Box

Simultaneously, Metis Associates helped Future Foundation develop an effective student attendance and dosage tracking system. The PREIS implementation team used the system to monitor individual-level student participation and deliver targeted outreach. The two partners met weekly to review attendance and dosage data and develop data-driven outreach strategies to secure the highest possible response rates on the Youth Outcome Survey.

With the shift to online service delivery in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Future Foundation altered its strategies to sustain youth and family engagement. In addition to home-based meal delivery, this includes remote retention strategies for both treatment and control group youth, including weekly check-in questions and activities (e.g., virtual jigsaw puzzle, hot or not discussions, emoji board, photo contest, and virtual Netflix movie party).

Irrespective of the modality by which engagement strategies have been implemented, the effect on student study engagement has been undeniable. Future Foundation’s response rates on post- and follow-up Youth Outcome Surveys have vastly improved since the first cohort of students revealed the necessity for further attention. For example, in Cohort 1, response rates increased from 74% at immediate post-test to 91% at 3-month follow-up and 87% at 6-month follow-up. Likewise, immediate post-test response rates rose by at least ten percentage points from the 74% observed for Cohort 1 to 87% and 84%, respectively, for Cohort 2 and Cohort 3.