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Program Profile: Peer Group Connection (PGC) Program

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on April 27, 2015

Program Summary

A high school transition program that targets 9th-grade students in urban high schools who are at risk of dropping out. The goal is to improve high school graduation rates among participating youths by having junior and senior high school students serve as peer mentors. This program is rated No Effects since the program did not improve students’ high school graduation rates overall. However, a significant positive effect on the graduation rate among male students only was detected.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
Peer Group Connection (PGC) is a high school transition program that targets 9th-grade students (at varying levels of risk for school-related problems) in low-income, urban high schools. The goal of the intervention is to improve high school graduation rates among participating youths by improving their academic achievement, social–emotional skills, school attachment, and relationships with other students across grades.

Program Activities
In the 1st year, selected 11th- and 12th-grade students participate in a daily year-long, leadership-training class taught by faculty advisors (trained school teachers). The peer leaders are selected based on various leadership qualities and the degree to which they are on track to graduate. The training is designed to prepare the upper-class students to engage freshmen in weekly outreach sessions and to serve as positive role models.

The first three class sessions each week are devoted to leadership training. In these sessions, peer leaders learn about and practice social–emotional skills, goal-setting, group facilitation, teamwork, active listening, and skills for time and stress management.

The fourth class period is a 40-minute outreach session in which pairs of peer leaders meet with groups of 12 freshmen. These sessions follow an interactive curriculum that is designed to foster attitudes and skills that will promote behaviors that reduce risk of dropout, with particular emphasis on promoting school attachment; achievement motivation; peer acceptance; social competence; and skills for anger management, decision-making, and goal-setting.

In the fifth and final class each week, the upper-class student leaders reflect on that week’s outreach session with the freshmen. A family night event is held once a year for parents and caregivers of both peer leaders and freshman participants to improve parent–student communication and explore family attitudes.

In the 2nd year, three 2.5-hour booster sessions are provided to students who participated as freshmen. The purpose of these peer-led sessions is to reinforce academic self-efficacy as well as the skills for resisting negative peer influences, communication, goal-setting, and decision-making. Another family night event is also held during this year.

Program Theory
The PGC program is guided by the concept of social and emotional learning (SEL), which “involves the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2013, p. 4). SEL is associated with a positive impact on peer-group interactions; school climate; and students’ academic attitudes, behaviors, and performance (Zins, Weissberg, Wang, and Walberg 2004).

In addition, the PGC program is grounded in social learning theory, according to which students at risk of school dropout can learn positive skills and behaviors by observation and imitation of motivated and successful peer role models in a supportive, structured setting.

Additional Information
The Center for Supportive Schools, formerly the Princeton Center for Leadership Training, (Powell 1993) is the developer of the PGC program and also works in partnership with schools to implement it.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Graduation from High School
Johnson and colleagues (2014) found that although students in the Peer Group Connection program group graduated at a higher rate (77 percent) compared with students in the control group (68 percent), this difference was not statistically significant, suggesting the program did not have an impact on high school graduation rates.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Johnson and colleagues (2014) evaluated the Peer Group Connection (PGC) program. Study participants were 268 incoming freshmen (9th-grade) students (135 boys and 133 girls) from a low-income, urban high school selected during the 2005–2006 school year. The majority of the participants were Hispanic/Latino (92 percent), with the remaining students either African American (2 percent) or members of another racial or ethnic group (6 percent). Students were randomly assigned to the PGC program group (n=94) or control group (n=174). Three teachers, selected as faculty advisors, served as program instructors and trained 16 senior students to be peer leaders. Eight program groupings were formed, with 2 peer leaders and 12 freshmen per group.
All 268 participants completed a baseline survey at the beginning of their freshman year. The survey included a battery of questions about student behaviors and attitudes important for determining their risk of dropping out of school. These included discipline and absentee history; aspects of personality such as sensation seeking; academic achievement; motivation; decision-making; goal-setting; and attitudes toward school and peers.
The outcome measure was student graduation. This was determined through a list, obtained from the school, of students who had graduated from the high school as of June, 2009 (4 years after the study participants began high school).
A Propensity to Graduate Score (PGS) was calculated for each participant using logistic regression analysis with graduation status (“yes” or “no”) as the outcome and the participant characteristics measured on the baseline survey as predictors. There was not a significant difference in the PGS between students in the program group and control group on propensity scores. Chi-square analyses were conducted to determine the overall effect of participation in the PGC program on overall high school graduation.
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The annual cost of the program ranges from $25,000 to $100,000, or less than $500 per student.
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Implementation Information

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Johnson and colleagues (2014) evaluated a Peer Group Connection (PGC) program, in which a school stakeholders group, comprising principal, vice principal, administrators, and faculty representatives, was formed prior to program implementation. The program developers and researchers met frequently with the stakeholders prior to and throughout implementation to gather input and feedback for smooth implementation as well as to facilitate long-term growth and sustainability of the program. Before becoming faculty advisors for the program, selected teachers participated in an intensive 11-day training and a 4-day residential training. An additional 3-day residential training and three 1-day trainings for the faculty advisors were held during the 15 months of program implementation. In addition, program developers provided onsite technical assistance and consultation to faculty advisors to ensure implementation fidelity.
Throughout the school year, the program developers held monthly meetings with faculty advisors to obtain their feedback and discuss any need for modifications to the program model and/or activities. Weekly written feedback was also obtained from peer leaders and freshmen. In addition, program developers engaged in observations of both faculty advisors when they trained peer leaders, and of peer leaders during their outreach sessions with the participating freshmen. The information gathered from the observations was used to provide feedback to both faculty advisors and peer leaders in regard to strengths and areas of improvement. Finally, trained research observers completed rating scales to capture the degree to which faculty advisors and peer leaders were implementing the program with fidelity and high-quality instruction.
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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There was a statistically significant difference in the graduation rate of male students in the program and control groups that favored those in the Peer Group Connection (PGC) program group. This difference was most evident among those male students who exhibited a low-propensity-to-graduate score at baseline: those who participated in the PGC program had a graduation rate of 60 percent, whereas youths in the control group had a graduation rate of 30 percent.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Johnson, Valerie, Patricia Simon, and Eun-Young Mun. 2014. “A Peer-Led High School Transition Program Increases Graduation Rates among Latino Males.” The Journal of Educational Research 107(3): 186–96.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Center for Supportive Schools. 2014. Program Evaluation Reports & Articles for Peer Group Connection. Available from Sherry Barr, Ph.D., Vice President, Center for Supportive Schools, 911 Commons Way, Princeton, N.J., 08540.

Center for Supportive Schools. 2014. Peer Group Connection Curriculum Overview. Available from Sherry Barr, Ph.D., Vice President, Center for Supportive Schools, 911 Commons Way, Princeton, N.J., 08540.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. 2013. 2013 CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Hannaway, Jane, & Ann Senior. 1989. An Evaluation of the Peer Leadership Training Program: An Examination of Students’ Attitudes, Behavior and Performance. Princeton, NJ: Education Testing Service (ETS).

Johnson, Valerie, Laura Holt, Brenna Bree, and Sharon Powell. 2008. “Effects of an Integrated Prevention Program on Urban Youth Transitioning Into High School.” Journal of Applied School Psychology 24(2):225–46. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome ratings).

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network. “Model Programs: Center for Supportive Schools.”Accessed March 23, 2015.

Powell, Sharon Rose. 1993. “The Power of Positive Influence: Leadership Training for Today’s Teens.” Special Services in the Schools 8(1):119–36.

Simon, Patricia. 2008. Promoting High School Graduation in a Predominantly Latino/a Community: Four-Year Effects of a Peer-Led High School Prevention Program. PhD diss.. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome ratings).

Zins, Joseph, Michelle Bloodworth, Roger Weissberg, and Herbert Walberg (eds.). 2004. Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does the Research Say? New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

This practice provides at-risk youth with positive and consistent adult or older peer contact to promote healthy development and functioning by reducing risk factors. The practice is rated Effective in reducing delinquency outcomes; and Promising in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs; improving school attendance, grades, academic achievement test scores, social skills and peer relationships.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Multiple education outcomes
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Psychological functioning

School-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Designed to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies, in order to provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance in students, which can result in more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, and less emotional distress. The practice was rated Effective in reducing students’ conduct problems and emotional stress.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Multiple juvenile problem/at-risk behaviors
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Internalizing behavior

Dropout Prevention Programs
School- or community-based programs targeting frequently absent students or students at risk of dropping out of school. These programs are aimed at increasing school engagement, school attachment, and the academic performance of students, with the main objective of increasing graduation rates. The practice is rated Effective for reducing rates of school dropouts, and rated Promising for improving test scores/grades, graduation rates, and attendance.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Education - Dropout
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Academic achievement/school performance
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Graduation
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Attendance/truancy
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Leadership and Youth Development, Mentoring, Truancy Prevention

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide