Although high school success and completion are among the most important determinants of future life outcomes, over half a million adolescents in the United States drop out of school each year. School dropout has negative individual (e.g., increased likelihood of risky behaviors and decreased annual earnings) and societal repercussions (e.g., greater dependency on social services). African American and Latino youth, particularly those represented in lower socioeconomic status (SES) groups, are more likely to drop out of school than their White and higher SES counterparts. Research suggests that youth at risk for dropping out of school may not understand the link between current school performance and future success and, as a result, do not place a high value on school achievement. The proposed SBIR project, See It, Be It, will develop and test an innovative intervention that aids youth in forming school-based possible selves (i.e., cognitive representations of an individual's aspirations and goals). See It, Be It offers interactive softwar through which students create personalized stories about their short and long-term goals and the strategies needed to meet these goals. By creating stories and visualizing their successful school-based possible selves, students will better understand the link between current school performance and future success, and their cognitions about educational utility will change. Phase I will accomplish three aims: (1) create the Phase I prototype including one storyline, sample technology components such as an Online Implementation Center (OIC), and accompanying implementation materials (i.e., manual for school professionals);(2) assess prototype feasibility with school professionals (n=30) and both feasibility and pre-post knowledge gained with youth at risk for dropping out of school (n=20);and (3) establish the Phase II development plan based on Phase I findings. Phase I research is expected to demonstrate strong support for the proposed product. With this foundation, Phase II full product development will include a randomized trial examining treatment effects for (1) students'classroom engagement, (2) academically focused cognitions, and (3) academic self-concept. Through Phase II testing, the proposed product is expected to effectively increase students'classroom engagement, academically-focused cognitions, and academic self-concept. This intervention product will yield a valuable and cost-effective resource for school professionals and at-risk youth thereby addressing large market demands, and has the potential to make a significant impact on the lives of youth at risk for school dropout and on society, in general.
In the United States alone, approximately 7,000 students drop out of school each day. School dropout poses serious individual and societal risks. Dropouts obtain lower skilled and lower paying jobs than high school graduates and are more likely to report drug use than those who complete high school. Additionally, school dropouts make up the majority of welfare recipients and prison inmates. The substantial risk associated with dropping out of school has led to a critical public health need that must be addressed through the development and dissemination of effective treatment programs. The President of the United States designated $900 million in FY 2011 to help low-performing high schools decrease their dropout rates, underscoring the critical need to address this public health crisis. To date, most dropout interventions have focused on high school students. Research suggests that school disengagement begins well before high school. Also, while many of these programs offer mentor support and tutoring, once the program ends, students often revert to their original and often negative beliefs about academic success and school utility. The proposed SBIR project will address the shortcomings of current dropout intervention programs by developing and testing a specialized computer- based intervention for at-risk middle school youth. One of the primary goals of the intervention is to influence the cognitions youth hold about the utility of school. The proposed product will also significantly increase at-risk students'classroom engagement and academic self-concept.