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Youth Empowerment Solutions for Positive Youth Development

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Marc A. Zimmerman, Thomas M. Reischl, Alison Leslie Miller, Daniel J. Kruger, Susan Morrel-Samuels

The proposed study, Youth Empowerment Solutions for Positive Youth Development (YES), is a randomized controlled trial that compares youth in standard after school programs offering activity choice (e.g. sports, academic enrichment, arts) to youth assigned to an after school program that includes training in community development, formation of intergenerational partnerships and experience conducting community improvement projects. The study aims are to: 1) implement and evaluate an empirically developed intervention for empowering youth (YES) using a randomized controlled trial design in a high risk urban and suburban sample; 2) test a conceptual model that posits a causal relationship from youth empowerment processes to positive developmental outcomes; and 3) follow youth over time to assess sustainability of gains in healthy development. YES is a partnership between the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the Flint Community Schools and the Genesee County Intermediate School District. The study will include participants at eight high-need middle schools with 21st Century after school programs. Developmental outcomes will be assessed at baseline, curriculum completion and at three and nine months post-intervention.
Researchers have consistently found that participation in out of school programs enhances adolescents' well being and sense of worth, involves them in positive behaviors and helps them avoid involvement in problem behaviors. Although key elements of successful after school programs have been proposed (e.g., adult mentorship), the processes through which youth positive outcomes are achieved have rarely been empirically examined. Empowerment theory provides a unique conceptual framework for developing programs to enhance positive youth development because it incorporates the notion that health promotion requires not only that youth develop specific skills and positive assets, but also that youth become motivated to actively apply these skills and knowledge to become agents of positive change for themselves and in their communities. Thus, programs based on empowerment theory focus on building positive assets, connecting youth with local resources and adult role models, and engaging youth in community service activities. Ecological theory complements empowerment theory because it focuses attention on the social contexts in which youth develop, interactions between these contexts, and the roles youth can play in these contexts (e.g., schools, communities). An intervention approach informed by these two theories should enhance positive youth development by engaging youth in relevant ecological settings where they can learn skills, practice those skills, and establish the social resources to effectively navigate the social contexts in which they find themselves and develop into healthy adults.

Funding Period: 09/01/2010 to 07/31/2015

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