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Programs that Work

Project Northland


Program Info
Program Overview
Program Participants
Evaluation Methods
Key Evaluation Findings
Probable Implementers
Funding
Implementation Detail
Issues to Consider
Example Sites
Contact Information
Available Resources
Bibliography
Last Reviewed

 

Program Info

Outcome Areas
Healthy and Safe Children

Indicators
Youths not using alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs

Topic Areas

     Age of Child
       Middle Childhood (9-12)
       Adolescence (13-18)
     Type of Setting
       Middle School
     Type of Service
       Health Education
       Parent Education
       Youth Development
     Type of Outcome Addressed
       Physical Health
       Substance Use and Dependence

Evidence Level  (What does this mean?)
Proven

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Program Overview

Project Northland is a multi-year primary prevention program directed at young adolescents in Grades 6 through 8. The program’s goal is to delay the age when young people begin drinking and to reduce drinking among those who have already started. The project is based on an approach that helps young people understand and resist social pressures to drink alcohol or use other drugs. This involves addressing both individual behavioral change and environmental change. The University of Minnesota School of Public Health developed the program in 1991.

Each year of the three-year program has a specific theme with activities tailored to the developmental level of the students. The goal during the first year is to establish communication between parents and students about alcohol use. During the second year, students are introduced to ways to resist and counteract influences to use alcohol. The goal during the third year is to introduce students to groups within the community that play a role in alcohol use and availability, as well as to teach community-action skills to students and parents. The intervention activities include parent involvement/education programs, behavioral curricula, peer participation, and community task force activities.

As with many programs, the positive results tend to diminish over time. By the tenth grade there were no longer any significant differences between students who had been in the program and those who had not. To address this concern, Phase II of Project Northland developed a curriculum for Grades 10 through 12. A longitudinal study of that phase was scheduled to be completed in late 2001.

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Program Participants

The program is designed for adolescents in Grades 6 through 8. The Phase I evaluation study followed a cohort of 2,351 students who began the sixth grade in 1998. The students were from mostly rural, lower-middle to middle-class communities in northeast Minnesota; 94 percent of the students were white.

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Evaluation Methods

The initial project evaluation took place from 1991 to 1994. Twenty-four school districts in northeast Minnesota participated in the study. The districts were matched for size and then assigned randomly to either Project Northland or to a comparison group. Schools in the comparison group continued to implement the district's usual alcohol and other drug education programs throughout the study period. The evaluation followed the cohort that entered sixth grade in 1991.

Students were given a baseline survey in fall 1991, followed by annual surveys each spring in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Of the 2,351 sixth graders who were initially surveyed, 81 percent (1,901) completed the third spring survey. Among those lost to follow-up, there were no significant differences in baseline alcohol use between those in the intervention group and those in the control group. The majority (62 percent) of non-respondents moved out of the area. The surveys asked questions regarding program participation, personal and social influences, and alcohol and tobacco use. The researchers created a “Tendency to Use Alcohol Scale” by combining items about intentions to use alcohol and items concerning actual alcohol use. This scale has been tested for satisfactory psychometric properties. The evaluation assessed community-related factors through telephone surveys with parents and local merchants who sold alcohol, measures of alcohol purchase attempts by youth, and interviews with community leaders.

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Key Evaluation Findings

The evaluation by Perry et al. (1996) found that by the end of the eighth grade:

  • Differences in alcohol and drug use between the experimental and control groups were statistically significant in several measures.
    • Monthly alcohol use was 20 percent lower and weekly drinking was 30 percent lower for all students in the intervention districts.
    • Cigarette smoking was 37 percent lower and marijuana use was 50 percent lower among baseline non-users (adolescents who had not yet used alcohol before the program began).
    • Combination alcohol and cigarette use in the previous month was lower among intervention students (14.3 percent) than among control students (19.6 percent).

  • The program was most effective with baseline non-users.

  • The program changed students perceptions about the ways in which many young people consume alcohol, increased students’ refusal skills, and increased parent-child communication about alcohol use.

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Probable Implementers

Middle or junior high schools and their local communities.

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Funding

The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse of the U.S. National Institutes of Health funded Project Northland’s three-year demonstration study.

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Implementation Detail

Program Design

  • The program actively involved the students, starting in the sixth grade and continuing through eighth grade.

  • The program used peer leaders at all three grade levels.

  • Teachers in each grade received training to maintain consistency of implementation.

  • Each year of the program had an overall theme that reflected the program’s components and that was tailored to the cohort’s developmental level.

Curriculum

6th Grade:
In the "Slick Tracy Home Team" program, students completed four activity books with their parents over a four-week period. The fictional characters Slick Tracy and Breathtest Mahoney served as role models in the exercises. These exercises provided a forum for families to discuss alcohol-related issues and provided the groundwork for future activities. Parents were also provided with four issues of the newsletter Northland Notes for Parents, which contained information about adolescent alcohol use. A community task force was created. It included government officials, police, business representatives, parents, health professionals, clergy, and other concerned citizens.

7th Grade:
The second year’s theme was "Amazing Alternatives!" The activities in this year were focused on the schools. Led by teachers and student leaders, the eight week curricula taught students to identify and resist pressures to use alcohol. Parents were provided with additional activity books and copies of Northland Notes for Parents. The “Exciting and Entertaining Northland Students” (TEENS) program was created as a peer participation program to create alternative alcohol-free activities. The community task force helped to get several ordinances passed during the year to prevent illegal alcohol sales to youth.

8th Grade:
The "PowerLines" program included eight classroom sessions and a theater production. The TEENS program, the task force, and distribution of Northland Notes also continued in this year. The goals of the final year were to reinforce previous lessons and to teach community-action and citizen-participation skills.

Staffing

Regular classroom teachers and student peer leaders staffed the classroom portion of the program.

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Issues to Consider

The program received a "proven" rating. The evaluation study used an experimental design and followed a cohort of 1,901 students over three years. Comparisons between the intervention and control groups, and between baseline users and nonusers, demonstrated significant effects on several measures of alcohol and drug use by the time students reached the end of eighth grade.

The program was significantly more effective for those students who had not yet started using alcohol by the sixth grade. Baseline nonusers were strongly influenced not to initiate drinking by their parents and peers and were more able to resist offers to drink. In contrast, there were no statistically significant differences in alcohol use between baseline users in the intervention or control groups. The users in the intervention groups, however, did show several changes in perceived norms. For example, intervention users were significantly more likely to report that students their age do not drink, that their parents had communicated the consequences of alcohol use, that using alcohol had a negative effect on reputation, and that they were more likely to attend parties where no alcohol was present.

Although the program was effective in reducing alcohol and drug use among eighth graders, the benefits of the program did not persist to later years. By the tenth grade, students in the program and control groups had similar outcomes. A second phase of Project Northland that targets tenth through twelfth graders is currently being evaluated. The results of that second phase should be available by late 2002.

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Example Sites

Minnesota

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Contact Information

Kaylene McElfresh
Special Projects and Training Manager
Hazelden Foundation / Publishing Division
800.328.9000 ext 4324
kmcelfresh@hazelden.org

Kris Vanhoof
Executive Director Content Innovations Management
Hazelden Foundation / Publishing Division
800.328.9000 ext 4331
Kvanhoof-haines@hazelden.org

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Available Resources

Information regarding Project Northland’s results and implementation details are available from several sources, including:

  • www.samhsa.gov

  • Making the Grade: A Guide to School Drug Prevention Programs, Washington, D.C.: Drug Strategies, 1999.

In addition, Project Northland curricula, posters, audiocassettes, and other materials may be purchased directly through Hazelden Information and Educational Services.

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Bibliography

Perry, C. L., C. L. Williams, S. Veblen-Mortenson, T. Toomey, et al.,  Project Northland: Outcomes of a Community-wide Alcohol Use Prevention Program During Early Adolescence  American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 86, pp. 956-965, 1996. 

Perry, C. L., et al.,  Project Northland High School Interventions: Community Action to Reduce Adolescent Alcohol Use,  Health and Education and Behavior, pp. 29-49, February, 2000. 

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Last Reviewed

November 2001

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