Schools are a promising venue for prevention efforts since youth spend the majority of their waking hours in school (1-3). School-based tobacco education efforts have had mixed results, with some showing short- and long-term success in reducing tobacco usage, and other programs yielding little or no positive outcomes. From 2009-2012, we (Halpern-Felsher and Smuin, Co-PIs) received Pilot SARA funding to examine current school-based tobacco control and education efforts in California, with an eye toward developing new tobacco prevention efforts.
The aims of the Pilot SARA included (a) partnering with California schools and the California Department of Education (CDE), (b) conducting focus groups with parents, students, and tobacco educators in order to obtain their input on new directions for school-based tobacco control efforts, and (c) disseminating the findings back to and receiving feedback from key stakeholders to ensure that any new tobacco education efforts developed will meet school and state priorities and guidelines, will be feasible within the school setting, and will be acceptable to and implemented by the teachers, coordinators, CDE and other key stakeholders.
Analyses of the Pilot SARA focus group data showed that schools did not need another large, comprehensive, research-validated school-based tobacco curriculum. Instead, schools, parents, students and the CDE are interested in a toolkit that can supplement current school-based tobacco education curricula. In particular, despite CDE mandating youth development approaches in any CDE-funded tobacco education programming, there is a dearth of information on what constitutes a youth development approach and how youth development should and can be implemented. The youth in the study also noted the need for information on addiction; and parents had a strong desire for materials on school-based tobacco policies, current school tobacco education efforts, and best practices for partnering with schools to help educate their children about tobacco. These gaps were echoed by a larger group of tobacco control county coordinators representing each of the counties throughout California. The coordinators attended a CDE meeting in Sacramento, during which Dr. Halpern-Felsher presented the findings from the Pilot SARA grant. There was overwhelming support for the development of these modules, with many coordinators and tobacco prevention educators as well as CDE partners volunteering to participate and involve their schools in working with our team to develop, evaluate and implement these modules.
The specific aims of the proposed project thus explicitly address the priority needs and gaps identified by our school partners and stakeholders during the Pilot SARA phase, and are as follows: Aim 1: To develop, test, and implement a toolkit containing a set of youth development modules applied to school-based tobacco control and education efforts. Specifically, we anticipate developing (a) a module for tobacco educators on the principles of youth development, (b) modules for implementing youth development strategies and best practices in the schools, including one on best practices to encourage youth involvement, using peers and near-peers, guiding youth to develop anti-tobacco messages, and guiding youth to create media and advocacy campaigns; and (c) a module that includes tobacco (nicotine) addiction messages to increase understanding and appreciation of nicotine addiction in order to reduce initiation and encourage cessation among youth who discount the addictive nature of tobacco. Aim 2: To develop, test and implement modules for parents, aimed at providing information about school tobacco policies, school tobacco control efforts, and messages that parents can use to reinforce and append school messages.
The findings from this formative research and the collaborations and relations resulting from this project are expected to lead to the development and implementation of evidence-based developmentally and culturally relevant modules to supplement current school-based tobacco education efforts.