Using Students' Weekly Diaries to Evaluate Positive Youth Development Programs: The Case of Project P.A.T.H.S. in Hong Kong

Article excerpt

In the literature on prevention of youth problems (i.e., prevention science approach), the focus is on minimization or prevention of youth problems. While this is an important focus, there are views suggesting that this is a "pathological" approach that has limited our understanding of the potentials of adolescents. For example, Benson (1997) argued against the pathological model and proposed a developmental model. Benson, Mannes, Pittman, and Ferber (2004) further suggested that the "strength-based" approach to successful adolescent development is to promote developmental nutrients, assets or supports and opportunities which promote developmental well-being, such as caring, competence, and thriving as the outcomes.

A survey of the literature shows that there are many intervention programs that have utilized positive youth development constructs. Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, and Hawkins (2002) reviewed 77 programs on positive youth development. The review showed that 25 programs were successful and 15 positive youth development constructs were identified in the successful programs. These constructs included promotion of bonding, cultivation of resilience, promotion of social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competencies, development of self-determination, promotion of spirituality, development of self-efficacy, development of clear and positive identity, promotion of belief in the future, recognition for positive behavior, providing opportunities for prosocial involvement, and fostering prosocial norms.

To promote holistic development among adolescents in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust has approved HK$400 million to launch a project entitled "P.A.T.H.S. to Adulthood: A Jockey Club Youth Enhancement Scheme." The word "P.A.T.H.S." denotes "Positive Adolescent Training through Holistic Social Programs." The Trust has invited academics of five universities in Hong Kong to form a research team with The Chinese University of Hong Kong as the lead institution to develop a multi-year universal positive youth development program to promote holistic adolescent development in Hong Kong, with the author as the principal investigator. Besides developing the program, the research team also provides training for teachers and social workers who implement the program and carry out longitudinal evaluation of the project (Shek, 2006a).

There are two tiers of programs (Tier 1 and Tier 2) in this project. Tier 1 is a universal positive youth development program where students in Secondary 1 to Secondary 3 (Grades 7 to Grade 9) participate in a curricula-based program, normally with 20 hours of training in the school year at each grade. Because research findings suggest that roughly one-fifth of adolescents would need help of a deeper nature, Tier 2 Program is generally provided for at least one-fifth of the students who have greater psychosocial needs at each grade (i.e., selective program). For the Tier 1 Program, there are 40 units per grade (each lasting for 30 minutes), with a total of 120 units for the whole program. Although the number of hours for each grade of the junior secondary school is 20, schools with special or extra needs may choose the core units only (i.e., 10 hours for the Tier 1 Program). The Secondary 1 to Secondary 3 curricula were developed by the research team by integrating existing research findings, programs, local adolescent needs, cultural characteristics, and experiences (such as trial teaching) gained from the Experimental Implementation Phase of the project. To cater to the needs of the students, the program was implemented by teachers and/or social workers (Shek, Ma, & Merrick, 2007).

Upholding the principle of triangulation, several evaluation strategies, including objective outcome evaluation, subjective outcome evaluation, qualitative evaluation based on focus groups, student diaries and in-depth interviews, process evaluation, and interim evaluation have been employed to evaluate the effectiveness of the project. …