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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice

A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Sample Dropout Intervention Program


Background: The Teen Outreach Program (TOP) was created in 1978 in St. Louis to help prevent teen pregnancy and school dropout. The project was originally funded by grants from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, and other sources. The Association of Junior Leagues has also played an important role in the creation and implementation of TOP.

Intervention Description: TOP is designed to prevent teen pregnancy and school dropout for both males and females by having students volunteer in their communities and participate in classroom discussions and educational sessions for one school year. Fundamental elements of the program include learning life skills, understanding social and emotional issues important to teens, discussing feelings and attitudes about a variety of subjects, and participating in volunteer opportunities in the community. These elements are implemented through the help of program facilitators, who teach classes, and organization facilitators, who help organize the volunteer experiences.

TOP can be implemented in a variety of ways. Some sites offer TOP classes for credit, as part of the school curriculum, while other sites offer TOP as an after-school program. Regardless of whether the program is during or after school, participants attend classes and discussions on a wide variety of topics. The topics are part of the Changing Scenes curriculum, which was originally created by the Association of Junior Leagues (1988) and revised by the Cornerstone Consulting Group in 1996. The curriculum is delivered via interactive group activities and exercises. Classes meet at least once a week throughout the school year and discuss topics such as communication skills, dealing with family stress, parenting, and understanding self and values. Although pregnancy prevention is a main focus of the program, less than 10% of the curriculum would be considered sex education, and material is incorporated into more general discussions of how to make good life decisions. Discussions about volunteer experiences are also included, to tie the classroom and volunteer service aspects of the program together.

The volunteer service component of the program also varies from site to site. All students are required to volunteer for a minimum of 20 hours per year, although some sites require more. Types of volunteer experiences also vary from site to site, but each program must ensure that the experience is appropriate both for the needs of the students and the needs of the community they are serving. Volunteer experiences include working as aides in hospitals and nursing homes, peer tutoring, and volunteer work in schools.

Participants & Setting: This intervention can be used across a range of grades and ages. Typically, high school students are the primary participants, but participants have included students ages 11 to 19 and in grades 7 through 12. Students are placed in the program in several ways, varying across sites. Some participate voluntarily while others are referred because they have been designated as at-risk for school dropout or teen parenthood. Both males and females are encouraged to participate. Program participants are more likely to come from single-parent homes and are more likely to have fathers with less education in comparison to students who did not participate in any intervention.

TOP has been implemented in many sites across the U.S., but primarily in large, urban areas (including New York and New Orleans). During the 2001-02 school year, TOP was being used in 16 states across the U.S., reaching more than 13,000 young people.

Implementation Considerations: The classroom/group facilitators have the most contact with the students. The facilitators are typically teachers (for in-school programs) or youth workers (for out-of-school programs) who have been trained to facilitate the discussions outlined in the curriculum. Community service coordinators are typically staff and/or volunteers experienced in helping youth design effective community service projects. Most sites also have a program coordinator overseeing all aspects of the program. This position may be voluntary or paid. Access to classrooms or other suitable space is also required.

Cost: Program costs vary depending on modes of implementation. Costs incurred can include staff salaries, training, classroom supplies, transportation, recreational activities, program evaluation, administrative costs, and family involvement activities. Each program site decides what services it will offer and whether it will be an integrated or stand-alone program. These decisions affect cost. Annual cost per student for programs across the country has ranged from $100 to $600. Lower costs result when TOP is integrated as part of existing service delivery and the various resources needed to implement it are in-kind donations. While a cost/benefit analysis is not available for TOP, it is worth noting that society pays an estimated $6.9 billion annually for services related to teen pregnancy and parenthood.

Evidence of Effectiveness: Several research studies have examined the effectiveness of TOP. The program has also received numerous awards from various agencies recognizing its effectiveness. In 1987, the Committee on Community-Level Programs for Youth of the National Research Council identified TOP as one of only three methods having documented effectiveness in reducing teen pregnancies. In 1998, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy honored TOP as the only program to qualify as an “Effective Program.” Overall findings concerning the effectiveness of this program show that it has a significant impact on the rate of teen pregnancies, school dropout, and course failure.

One study of TOP participants across several sites found they had significantly lower levels of suspension, school dropout, and pregnancy. This was despite variation among sites in program implementation. Program participants, who initially had significantly more problem behaviors than the control group, had significantly less by the end of the program. This study found no significant relationship between participant outcomes and grade level, child-rearing environment, or demographic variables. Program sites were most successful when they worked with older students and when the volunteer service component was more intensive (i.e., more hours were required).

Results from another study examining TOP’s effectiveness also showed participants had significantly lower rates of pregnancy, course failure, and school suspension as compared to nonparticipants. This study also found that TOP was not significantly more or less effective in preventing pregnancy for students of different grades, genders, or racial/ethnic minority groups.

Another study, conducted over a five-year period in 25 sites, found that TOP participants were about 40% less likely to become pregnant or cause a pregnancy, to be suspended from school, or to fail a class, compared to similar nonparticipants.

Manual or Training Available: Information on training and program resources can be obtained by contacting Gayle Waden (see contact information below).


Allen, J. P., & Philliber, S. (2001). Who benefits most from a broadly targeted prevention program? Differential efficacy across populations in the Teen Outreach Program. Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 637-655.

Allen, J. P., Philliber, S., Herrling, S., & Kuperminc, G. P. (1997). Preventing teen pregnancy and academic failure: Experimental evaluation of a developmentally-based approach. Child Development, 64, 729-742.

Allen, J. P., Philliber, S., & Hoggson, N. (1990). School-based prevention of teen-age pregnancy and school dropout: Process evaluation on the national replication of the Teen Outreach Program. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 505-524.

Cornerstone Consulting Group, Inc. Lessons learned from the National Replication Project for the Teen Outreach Program (TOP). Retrieved from http://www.cornerstone.to/what/rep.pdf

Teen Outreach Program. Retrieved from http://www.cornerstone.to/teen_outreach_program.htm

Contact Information:

Claire Wyneken
Phone: 636-938-5245, ext. 236
E-mail: clairew@wymancenter.org

Web site: http://www.wymancenter.org/shell.asp?id=18

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction & Getting Started

Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?

Part II: How Were Sample Intervention Programs Selected?

  • The Need for Examples of Effective Interventions
  • Search Process & Initial Criteria
  • Raising the Bar
  • Final Parameters for Selection
  • Abstracts: Coding & Definitions

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Part IV: Where Else Can I Go for More Information?

  • Related Resources & Organizations
  • Journal Articles & Related Publications
  • Web Sites Providing Data on Dropout Rates

Appendix: Reproducible Handouts on Dropout Prevention


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Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.