Programs that Work
Wyman's Teen Outreach Program
Healthy and Safe Children
Children Succeeding in School
Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards
Youths abstaining from sexual activity or not engaging in risky sexual behavior
Age of Child
Type of Setting
Out of School Time
Community-Based Service Provider
Health Care Provider
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Teen Sex / Pregnancy
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
Wyman's Teen Outreach Program® (TOP) is a national youth development program designed to prevent adolescent problem behaviors by helping adolescents ages 12 through 18 to develop healthy behaviors, life skills, and a sense of purpose. The Wyman Center is a nonprofit and the developer of TOP.
The nine-month TOP curriculum combines community service learning, adult support and guidance, and curriculum-based group activities. The curriculum has four levels appropriate for a range of grades and ages. Participants at all levels engage in a minimum of 20 hours of community service learning per academic year. TOP staff guide the youth in choosing, planning, implementing, reflecting on, and celebrating their service learning project. Service projects may include direct service, indirect service, or civic actions.
TOP groups also meet at least once a week throughout the school year to discuss topics from the curriculum, including communication skills/assertiveness, understanding and clarifying values, relationships, goal-setting, influences, decisionmaking, and adolescent health and sexual development.
The program is designed for use with youths aged 12 through 17. Program impact has been rigorously evaluated for high-school-age youths only.
Allen et al. (1997) conducted a study between 1991 and 1995 involving 25 TOP sites nationwide. All active TOP sites were invited to participate in the evaluation. The 25 participating sites represented roughly 10 percent of all the TOPs. Teens at each site were randomly assigned to treatment or control status, usually at the student level and less frequently at the classroom level. Analysis of demographic characteristics of the TOP and control groups found that the groups were similar at program entry. More than 80 percent of the participants were female, approximately 67 percent were black, and approximately 46 percent resided in two-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of the study population was in grades 9 and 10, approximately 20 percent was in grade 11, and approximately 11 percent was in the 12th grade.
A total of 695 students were randomized at the start of the study, with 342 students in the treatment group and 353 in the control group. All participants were assessed via questionnaire at entry (one to two weeks into the course) and upon completion of the program (at the end of the school year) on their background characteristics and histories of problem behaviors. Despite random assignment procedures, at baseline the control group was found to have significantly higher levels of prior course failure, school suspension, and teen pregnancy than the treatment group. A site-by-site inspection of the 25 sites found that one site had a control group with a significantly higher prevalence of risk factors and prior problem behaviors, and two sites had failed in efforts to track control students. As a result, these three sites were excluded from the study, resulting in a total of 22 program sites included in the analyses.
Study dropout rates were 5 percent in the treatment group and 8 percent in the control group. Analyses of this population indicated that students who dropped out of the study did not differ significantly at program entry from those who completed the program in terms of ethnicity, parents' educational attainment, or household composition (single-parent versus two-parent household). Dropout students, however, were found to be significantly younger and more frequently male than were completing students, and they were more likely to have had or have caused a pregnancy, and to have been suspended from school.
In addition to analysis to determine program impact, analysis was also conducted to determine whether there was a "dosage effect" (that is, whether variations in program intensity, particularly more or less volunteer hours, were related to outcomes).
Key Evaluation Findings
The study by Allen et al. (1997) found the following:
- The TOP participants' school suspension rate decreased by 24 percent over the course of the study (from 17 percent at baseline to 13 percent at posttest), while the control group experienced a 21 percent increase in suspension rate (from 24 percent at baseline to 29 percent at posttest).
- The TOP group's course failure rate decreased by 12 percent after the study (from 30.3 percent to 26.6 percent), whereas the control group experienced a 24 percent increase in failure rate (rising from 38 percent to 47 percent).
- Program participation had a significant impact on the pregnancy rate among female participants, with the TOP pregnancy rate decreasing 31 percent (from 6 percent at baseline to 4 percent at posttest), and the control group's pregnancy rate decreasing only 2 percent (10 percent at baseline to 9.8 percent at follow-up).
- There was no significant relationship between program dosage and pregnancy rates or program dosage and suspension.
High schools, middle schools, after-school and community-based youth organizations, teen pregnancy prevention coalitions, local health departments, and social service agencies
The program is funded primarily through local funding sources. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund supported evaluation of the program. Several current replications of Wyman's Teen Outreach Program are funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Office of Adolescent Health and the Administration for Children and Families.
According to Allen et al. (1997), the cost of implementing TOP for a full academic year to a class of 18 to 25 students ranged from approximately $500 to $700 per student (in 1997 dollars). These figures include costs for facilitator and site-coordinator time. When facilitator/coordinator time is provided as an in-kind contribution by schools and community volunteer service organizations, the direct program costs drop to approximately $100 per student.
- Groups meet weekly to discuss topics from the Changing Scenes© curriculum.
- Group discussions allow students to share and learn from others' volunteer experiences.
- The role-playing component of the curriculum helps students to practice and prepare for their volunteer service experience.
- Participants take part in a minimum of 20 hours of community service during the program year.
- A wide range of volunteer activities is available, including work as hospital and nursing home aides, peer tutoring, and fund-raising activities.
TOP's curriculum, "Changing Scenes," uses a variety of experiential methods to engage youth, including small-group discussions and role-playing. A community service learning guide aids discussions about volunteer experiences, tying together the classroom and community service learning aspects of the program and allowing youth to process and reflect on their service activities.
The TOP curriculum has four levels. Each level contains material that is developmentally appropriate for the age group involved (Level I: 12- to 13-year-olds. Level II: 14-year-olds. Level III: 15- to 16-year-olds. Level IV: 17- to 18-year-olds.)
Curriculum theme areas include the following:
- communication skills/assertiveness
- understanding and clarifying values
- human development and sexuality.
Facilitators choose which lessons to implement with their TOP group, allowing the group's weekly meetings to be adapted to the needs of the group. For each subject area, the curriculum contains a variety of activities and materials for discussion, so that implementers may select those that seem to be the most relevant and helpful for their particular youth population.
The program is most commonly implemented by youth workers, classroom teachers, or guidance personnel who have been trained to facilitate the discussions outlined in the curriculum.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "promising" rating. Despite positive outcomes for both academic achievement and teen pregnancy, the program evaluation had a number of methodological limitations regarding sample selection and comparability of treatment groups.
When considering the results of this study, there is a significant issue of self-selection bias. Only 10 percent of the TOP sites chose to participate in the study. Allen and colleagues provided no information on how these sites and their populations compare with TOP sites in general. It is possible that the sites that chose to participate had a history of greater program success and/or served higher-functioning populations. If so, the results found may not be indicative of implementation of TOP in all settings.
A point of concern is the fact that despite random assignment to treatment status and similar sociodemographic profiles, the treatment and control groups differed significantly at entry on all measures of problem behaviors. At initial data collection, the control group showed higher levels of prior course failure (38 percent versus 30 percent), suspension (24 percent versus 17 percent), and pregnancy (10 percent versus 6 percent) than the treatment group. Although an attempt was made to control for these differences in the statistical analyses, these discrepancies could suggest that the TOP group was "better off" from the start and may have been predisposed toward more favorable outcomes.
Consideration must also be given to the gender composition of the participant population. Although intended to work with all teens, this program seems to favor participation by female students. In the 1997 study, the sample had large numbers of females, with the treatment and control groups being 86 percent and 83 percent female, respectively. This makes it difficult to conclude that the program would work as effectively with a male population. Further, as the classroom component is based on discussion and sharing and, to some extent, is shaped around the experiences, interests, and needs of the participants, there is a question of just how effective it would be (both in terms of subject matter covered and the open participation of students) with a more equally balanced gender mix. It is possible that some of the program's exhibited success results from the ability to target the common needs of the female population. Thus, it may not be appropriate to conclude that the program works equally well with male and female teen populations.
Another issue to consider is the lack of longitudinal data. Conclusions are based on data collected upon immediate conclusion of the program. It may be easier for a teen to "stay on track" while he or she is the direct recipient of focused attention, such as the kind of attention provided by the program. There is no measure of whether participation in the program carries into continued improved performance and reduced risk of pregnancy beyond the boundaries of direct program involvement.
Allen and Philliber (2001), using a somewhat less rigorous design with a sample that included the same students assessed in Allen et al. (1997) as well as additional students, suggests that the program's effects are particularly robust for youths at higher risk of the specific types of problem behaviors being measured. For example, the authors found that the program had a larger effect in reducing pregnancies among youths who had already given birth to a child (compared with those who had never given birth). For this group of study participants, the likelihood of an additional pregnancy was less than one-fifth as large in the intervention group as in the comparison group. Similarly for the outcome of academic failure, TOP had a larger impact for youths who had been previously suspended than for those who had not. The program also displayed greater effectiveness for members of racial ethnic minority groups than for Caucasian students.
In operation since 1976, TOP serves more than 30,000 teens in 1,500 clubs, ranging across 32 states plus Washington, D.C. It is used in rural, urban, and suburban settings. The program is typically integrated into the curriculum of schools but is also implemented as an out-of-school program through community-based youth organizations, local health departments, and social service agencies.
Wyman offers a dedicated website for those interested in Wyman's Teen Outreach Program®: www.wymancenter.org/TOP.
Resources to support the development and implementation of local TOP programs, including curriculum, implementation training, training of trainers, technical assistance, and self-assessment program evaluation materials, are available from the Wyman Center and its certified replication partners exclusively.
Allen, Joseph, and Susan Philliber, "Who Benefits Most from a Broadly Targeted Prevention Program? Differential Efficacy Across Populations in the Teen Outreach Program,"
Journal of Community Psychology,
Vol. 29, No. 6, 2001, pp. 637-655.
Allen, Joseph, Susan Philliber, Scott Herrling, and Gabriel P. Kuperminc, "Preventing Teen Pregnancy and Academic Failure: Experimental Evaluation of a Developmentally Based Approach," Child Development, Vol. 68, No. 4, 1997, pp.729-742.