The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) recently received a three-year, $960,000 grant to help teens to make healthy decisions by providing tools and resources to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and risky behavior among youths in Washington County.
The Teen Outreach Program (TOP) grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration on Children, Youth and Families – Family and Youth Services Bureau.
UAMS is the lead agency for the Northwest Arkansas Teen Outreach Program (NWA-TOP) and will partner with the Springdale School District and local non-profit youth agencies to recruit 1,200 ninth graders in the Springdale School District to participate in the program. Parents will be recruited to participate in monthly family/caregiver events.
Arkansas has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, along with STI rates substantially higher than national rates. Springdale has high rates of teen birth, STIs, health disparities and other youth risk factors.
NWA-TOP will use the Wyman Center’s TOP approach, which uses a medically accurate curriculum that is age appropriate, culturally and linguistically appropriate, and trauma informed. The Wyman TOP curriculum has been in existence for over 30 years and has piloted some of the nation’s most successful youth development solutions.
“We wanted to provide a positive youth development program designed to help teens build educational success, life and leadership skills, and healthy behaviors and relationships,” said Pearl McElfish, vice chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville and the principal investigator for the grant project. “The evidence-based TOP program has been proven to help teens better navigate challenges during the teenage years – a time when decisions matter.”
The curriculum focuses on three core content areas that work together to reduce the impact of risk and promote positive youth development. The content areas are skill-building, developing a sense of self, and making connections.
“Research shows that supporting teens in TOP’s three core content areas leads to a variety of positive outcomes, including increased pro-social behavior, lower levels of problem behaviors and emotional distress, and improved academic performance,” said Hershell West, assistant director of programs in UAMS Office of Community Health and Research.
West, along with Robert Ferguson, who leads the health curriculum instructors in the Springdale School District and is the TOP coordinator for the district, attended Wyman’s five-day TOP Training of Trainers event in St. Louis, to become certified trainers.
West said that NWA-TOP program coordinators and researchers hope to see long-term outcomes for participants of a 53% reduction in teen pregnancy, a 52% reduction in school suspension and a 60% decrease in risk of academic failure. West said these outcomes are based on the proven performance of the Wyman TOP program in other sites.