University of Vermont

STAFF COUNCIL - Serving as a voice and advocate for all staff at UVM since 1971

UVM Extension Receives $600,000 Grant to Expand Program Aimed at Reducing Risky Behavior in Vermont Youth

Expansion Will Target Schools in St. Johnsbury, Newport, Derby

PROSPER program at Lyndon Town School.
A youth session in PROSPER’s after-school Family Program at Lyndon Town School in Lyndonville, Vt. Working with a group of sixth graders are PROSPER Family Program facilitators Dakota Fournier, seated at the table, and Lynzy Guyer, standing, both teachers at the school. (Photo: Anthony Willey)

University of Vermont Extension will expand a program proven to reduce risky behavior in youth, including substance misuse, called PROSPER to schools in St. Johnsbury, Newport and Derby. The program is currently in place at three Vermont schools.

PROSPER, for Promoting School-Community-University Partnerships to Enhance Resilience, was developed jointly at Iowa State University and Pennsylvania State University in 2001 and has been implemented in communities around the country since then. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in nearly 80 published research studies.

The two-year program targets sixth and seventh graders.

“We’re honored and pleased to be able to expand the PROSPER program to three communities in the Northeast Kingdom,” said Chuck Ross, director of UVM Extension. “The program has generated impressive results nationally and in the three Vermont schools where it’s in place. We have every reason to expect similar success in St. Johnsbury, Newport and Derby.”

The PROSPER expansion to St. Johnsbury and Newport will be funded with a $599,124 Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within USDA. Funding for the Derby expansion is coming from Iowa State. 

The program will be implemented at St. Johnsbury School in St. Johnsbury, Newport City Elementary School in Newport, and Derby Elementary School and North Country Union Junior High School in Derby, which serves both Newport and Derby.  

The PROSPER programs in St. Johnsbury and Newport will launch July 1, with Derby following three months later. UVM Extension expects that the programs in all three communities will be up and running in early 2020. 

The PROSPER Model

The PROSPER program builds competency and confidence in sixth and seventh graders and improves family functioning as bedrock strategies for preventing behavior problems in youth. 

In sixth grade, PROSPER engages families in an after-school program called Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth Ages 10-14. The program shifts to an in-school focus during seventh grade with delivery of Lifeskills programming. During both years, teachers and counselors in the school deliver a set curriculum that research has shown to be effective.

Critical to the program’s success is the work of a team of eight to ten community members, including parents, teachers and other school personnel, Department of Health representatives and community members. The community team helps fine-tune the messaging of the program to the specific needs of the school, does fundraising to ensure the program is sustainable after the five-year grant expires, conducts outreach to the community about PROSPER and oversees the program’s implementation via monthly meetings.

The new PROSPER programs will be enhanced by a partnership with 4-H that will engage students in variety of leadership training programs.

Strong research results

According to research conducted by Iowa State and published in  the journal Preventive Medicine in 2013, teens involved with PROSPER program had significantly reduced rates of drug and alcohol use compared with teens not in the program.  Teens and young adults who had been through the program also had better relationships with parents, improved life skills and fewer problem behaviors in general.

According to a different study conducted by Penn State, students who participated in PROSPER had reduced initiation rates for marijuana and meth. If the findings were to generalize, about 61 students in a PROSPER community would try marijuana, as compared to 100 students in a non-PROSPER community.

The PROSPER program also has a continuing effect. One study showed it reduced alcohol use by an average of 32 percent for 10th grade students who had participated in the program compared with peer who hadn’t. 

The principal investigator on the grant is UVM Extension’s Sarah Kleinman, the state director of 4-H. Other members of the UVM Extension team are Ellen Rowe, community and leadership development specialist and co-principal investigator/evaluator; Anthony Willey, 4-H educator and PROSPER team leader; and Kara Bissonnette, technology coordinator.Through an earlier CYFAR grant awarded to UVM Extension in 2017, PROSPER programs are in place at Lyndon Town School in Lyndonville and Otter Valley Union High School, where the program is delivered to sixth and seventh graders from five rural middle schools in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union. The program, with a different funding source, has been in place at Camel’s Hump Middle School in Richmond since 2013.