As the school year comes to a close, students begin to look ahead to the following year and anticipate being in the next grade. Another year means new experiences and new challenges, some of which young people may not feel prepared to take on. These students – and ALL students – need to develop habits that build socioemotional skills and resilience, so that they can face the many stressors of middle and high school.
Without this type of support, students are at a heightened risk of dropping out of school altogether. And students who drop out often face difficult futures. They are more likely to be unhealthy, unhappy, unemployed, incarcerated, and/or impoverished. However, parents, communities, and schools can all work together to play an integral role in making sure their students are successful in middle school, high school and beyond – by seeking out and implementing effective prevention education programs.
Prevention education provides educators with the knowledge and know-how to implement this type of learning in the classroom. Prevention education can address and combat bullying, poor self-esteem, nicotine use, alcohol use, drug use, sexual violence, domestic abuse, and other issues that young people face. Prevention education can result in students who are more likely to succeed, lead healthy lives, and most importantly, who are happy and optimistic about their future.
What is prevention education?
Prevention education refers to comprehensive education that is focused on addressing the root causes of the issues that teens face, such as low self-esteem, substance use, interpersonal violence, and cyberbullying. Prevention strategies address the ways in which individual, relationship, community, and societal factors impact common teen issues. The goal is to prevent these problems before they even occur. Prevention education should always be backed by research and science. Curriculum design should be age-appropriate as well as developmentally appropriate.
What are the benefits of prevention education?
The result of prevention education is that students are more likely to have positive self-concepts as well as positive relationships with peers and adults. Prevention education also provides students a connection to caring adults. The development of socioemotional skills can help teens manage emotions, solve problems, set and achieve positive goals, and deal effectively with daily tasks and challenges. These skills can also help students cope with loss, fear, or sadness, and they will better manage anxiety about any unknown next steps.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Research suggests that well-designed and well-implemented school programs can influence multiple health outcomes, including reducing sexual risk behaviors related to HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancy, decreasing substance and tobacco use, and improving academic performance.”
When families, communities, and schools are involved, students are more likely to:
- Earn high grade-point averages (GPAs) and scores on standardized tests
- Enroll in more challenging classes
- Pass more classes
- Earn more credits
- Attend school regularly
- Display positive attitudes about school
- Graduate from high school
- Enroll in postsecondary education programs
- Refrain from destructive activities, such as alcohol and drug use and/or violence
Consistent and accessible prevention education programs in schools nationwide can make a difference in our teenagers’ lives and futures. It is essential that we implement prevention education programs.
How does prevention education help secondary students?
Prevention education helps middle and high school students in many ways. Some of the most impactful effects of an effective prevention education program are:
- Reduction in negative consequences
Students who are struggling with making good choices may resort to coping mechanisms such as substance use or abuse. And students who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol make even poorer decisions. These decisions can result in campus property damage, accidents, injuries, overdoses, ER visits, interpersonal conflicts, late-night disturbances, sleep disorders, panic and anxiety, health issues, and more. Schools need to consider whether they would rather spend funds on preventing such issues or on dealing with the negative consequences that invariably result from a student body with poor socioemotional functioning.
- Increase in student retention and attendance
Research has repeatedly shown that students who have taken a prevention education course spend less time under the influence and more time in school, learning. Students with stronger socioemotional skills are more resilient under pressure, and are better able to process new information. This leads to increased academic achievement, which, in turn, results in increased year-over-year retention rates.
- Reduction in student conduct violations
Students who take prevention courses are less likely to need interventions down the road. Each year that a school provides prevention education, the number of student conduct violations is likely to decrease. When high schools choose to use punitive behavior management systems, like detention and in- or out-of-school suspension, the result is that students spend less time learning in class and less time socializing with their peers. This causes the achievement gap to widen even more, particularly for students from underrepresented groups. Fewer student conduct violations mean more time spent at school and in class, which improves student outcomes, both academically and behaviorally.
- Improved mental health outcomes
Substance use and/or abuse, bullying, difficult interpersonal relationships, gang affiliation, and many more of the issues teens face today affect their physical health and mental well-being. Prevention education is a critical component to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices. Prevention education teaches students about the potential consequences of their decisions, helps them to cope with peer pressure, and gives them strategies and tools for reducing or avoiding stress and/or unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. This leads to improved mental health outcomes for all students.
- Increased staff efficacy and retention
Without the right resources, many educators and administrators feel unequipped to implement prevention education programs in their classrooms and schools. This leads to poor student outcomes, which negatively impacts staff well-being and mental health as well. Teachers and administrators want to feel empowered to help their students navigate the sometimes dangerous waters of middle and high school. Educators who are consistently left without the tools they need to succeed may burn out, give up, or leave to find a school that does provide socioemotional support to its students.
At the end of the day, prevention education shouldn’t be a question of “if,” but, rather, “when.” Prevention education is a vital part of the school curriculum, and is necessary for middle and high school students, in order to help them build the skills they need to cope with the challenges of life.
Many teens face mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, which can lead to serious consequences if not treated early. Prevention education improves the mental and physical health of high school students; it can reduce rates of dropping out, teen pregnancy, drug use, and suicide. In addition, prevention education helps students learn how to manage stress, resolve conflicts, and make healthy choices. By equipping students with these skills, prevention education makes a significant difference in their lives.