Project targets youth violence
A new North Dakota State University research project aims to stop delinquent youth behavior before it starts. More than $570,000 in federal grant money will allow NDSU to work with Fargo public schoolchildren who demonstrate behavior problems or ...
A new North Dakota State University research project aims to stop delinquent youth behavior before it starts.
More than $570,000 in federal grant money will allow NDSU to work with Fargo public schoolchildren who demonstrate behavior problems or adjustment issues.
Joel Hektner, NDSU associate professor of child development and family science, said the program targets early elementary students in a proactive approach to preventing problems when they become teenagers.
The research is an extension of a University of Minnesota program called Early Risers Skills for Success that's been implemented across Minnesota for 10 years and has received national recognition.
Researchers work with children and their families in school-year and summer programs to improve their social skills and academic readiness.
Hektner, who formerly worked for the University of Minnesota, plans to expand that research by adding a peer component.
"What still hadn't been addressed yet is how to help the children integrate with the rest of their peers," he said.
The integration is important because students with behavior issues often are rejected by their peers, Hektner said.
"All of these children who are rejected tend to find each other," he said. "They teach each other poor behaviors, so it kind of escalates."
To prevent children from being rejected, the program will include at-risk students, and well-adjusted students as peer mentors.
Gerald August, a U of M professor of psychiatry, said the peer component of the program aims to prevent bullying that could lead to serious school violence later on in a child's life.
"We try to block the rejection process before it starts to take root," said August, who also directs the Center for Children's Mental Health and Prevention at the U of M Medical School.
Hektner will meet with Fargo principals in September to select schools for the program.
Three schools will get the program and two will be included in the study as control schools.
Teachers will nominate candidates for the program - both at-risk students and potential peer mentors - and parents will be asked if they want their child to participate, Hektner said.
A total of 120 students will be involved. This year will primarily be recruiting, and the research will begin next summer.
The National Institute of Mental Health funded the research for three years.
Deb Dillon, director of alternative programs for Fargo Public Schools, said the district is glad to participate in the program because officials recognize that the problems students have often originate early in their lives.
"Kids don't suddenly get to 16 and decide 'OK I'm going to drop out,' " Dillon said. "The earlier we can reach kids and help them develop positive patterns, the better off they're going to be and the better we're going to be able to serve them."
About the program
- NDSU research project aims to stop delinquent youth behavior before it starts.
- Program targets early elementary students.
- Researchers work with children and families to improve their social skills and academic readiness.
- Program integrates at-risk and well-adjusted students.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590