The Cornerstone of Utah Prevention
The top discipline problems in the public schools were in 1940 were talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, and not putting paper in wastebaskets! By the early 1980’s, when Utah started focusing on substance abuse prevention the top problems in schools included the following: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, bombings, murder, absenteeism, extortion, gang warfare, abortion and venereal disease. Times have changed!
History of Prevention Dimensions
Utah's Prevention Dimensions program (formerly known as the “K-12 Alcohol, Drug, and Tobacco Prevention Education Program”) originally evolved out of a statewide P.T.A. survey of parents that identified alcohol, tobacco, and other drug problems as second only to the need to improve reading in Utah's schools. Under the leadership of the late Senator Moroni L. Jensen, the 1980 Utah Legislature and Governor Scott M. Matheson responded to parental requests to do more about drug education and approved a one-time appropriation of $145,000. With the funds came a charge to the Utah State Office of Education, working collaboratively with the Utah Department of Health, the State Division of Substance Abuse, the State P.T.A., and others to improve the quantity and quality of substance abuse education in Utah's schools. The product of this extensive interagency cooperative effort and partnership is Utah's Prevention Dimensions program, a scoped and sequenced curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade twelve.
In 1983, the State Division of Substance Abuse was successful in securing a permanent funding base for substance abuse prevention. A legislative appropriation of $2,000,000 was obtained through an increase in the tax on beer. The primary purpose of this new funding, now part of the Division’s base budget, was to develop and implement alcohol and other drug prevention programs at both the school and community levels. The funding also provided for the establishment of a statewide network of substance abuse prevention specialists.
The school-based funding was specifically intended for the further development and statewide implementation of a standardized, K-12 curriculum. The new funding also enabled the addition of a comprehensive teacher in-service component, to ensure that drug education and the new curriculum materials were implemented effectively. The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) administers and coordinates the statewide implementation of the Prevention Dimensions program, with funding support from the State Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH). The USOE utilizes the funding for developing, producing, and distributing the curriculum materials to the schools. The majority of the legislative funding is distributed by the DSAMH, via formula, to the 13 local substance abuse authorities, which work in partnership with the school districts in their areas to conduct the teacher training.
Prevention Dimensions underwent curriculum enhancements in 1992 and 2003. The lesson objectives are based on increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors, while adhering to a no-use message for alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, inhalants, and other drugs. Prevention Dimensions is modeled after other effective, science-based curricula that seek to build life skills, deliver knowledge about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD), and provide opportunities for students to participate in prevention activities.
Prevention Dimensions has also undergone periodic evaluations focusing on both the effectiveness of the teacher training and the curriculum itself. During the 1980’s, a longitudinal evaluation conducted by Haas, et al., indicated that teachers who participated in the in-service training exhibited significantly increased knowledge of the effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; as well as an increased willingness to use the curriculum in their classrooms. Student outcomes showed significant increases in knowledge of the effects of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, as well as improvements in individual decision-making skills. Further study demonstrated significant reductions in the rate of initiation of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use, as well as a slight decrease in monthly alcohol use. More recent evaluation findings show significant reductions in risk factors for substance abuse among high-risk students compared to high-risk students not receiving Prevention Dimensions. Further, students who receive Prevention Dimensions instruction score higher on knowledge of resistance skills and other personal problem solving skills (life skills) than those who do not participate in Prevention Dimensions.
A Promising Program
Based on its history of positive results, Prevention Dimensions received a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Exemplary Program Award and was accorded “promising program” status in 2002. Following this recognition, the USOE was invited to submit its data from previous Prevention Dimensions research to the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s (CSAP) National Registry for Effective Programs (NREP) for review. The rigorous scientific review of Prevention Dimensions produced a score of 3.7 (4.0 is deemed “effective” by NREP).
With these encouraging results, a team representing Prevention Dimensions participated in a “Pilot Institute to Advance Effective Prevention” in Washington , D.C. , in November 2002, where prevention experts provided technical assistance and program-specific recommendations. The goal of the Institute was to create a roadmap for a “promising program,” so that program developers and researchers would know what was needed to move Prevention Dimensions to the next level of effectiveness.
New Curriculum Materials and Evaluation
Under the guidance of the USOE Prevention Dimensions Steering Committee, a revision of the K-3rd grade lesson content and re-packaged materials, including music components, was completed in January 2003. Ten regional trainings were conducted statewide to train classroom teachers and to disseminate the new resource materials during March, April and May of 2003. The 4th through 6th grade lessons and materials will be ready for distribution in the near future. Given the timely nature of this new curriculum release, a new research study is underway during the current, 2003-2004 school year. The overall goal of this study is to determine the impact of the Prevention Dimensions resource lessons on students in Utah . The assumption is that Prevention Dimensions is “effective” in producing a statistically significant impact on variables related to drug use. These impacts would include such changes as increased knowledge, increased protective factor scale scores, and decreased risk factor scale scores. With the successful completion of this new study, Prevention Dimensions is likely to be accorded an “effective program” status by CSAP/NREP in the near future.
With Prevention Dimensions providing a strong foundation for all of the state’s substance abuse prevention efforts, Utah will continue to successfully address alcohol and other drug issues among children and youth statewide.