Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

EFFECTS OF A SCHOOL BASED PROGRAM TO IMPROVE ADAPTIVE SCHOOL BEHAVIOR AND SOCIAL COMPETENCIES AMONG ELEMENTARY SCHOOL YOUTH: The Living Skills Program

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

EFFECTS OF A SCHOOL BASED PROGRAM TO IMPROVE ADAPTIVE SCHOOL BEHAVIOR AND SOCIAL COMPETENCIES AMONG ELEMENTARY SCHOOL YOUTH: The Living Skills Program

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of the Living Skills school-based intervention program as a method of improving school adjustment and the social lives of at-risk elementary school students. Youth participants were referred to the program by teachers or school counselors based on perceptions of risk due to rejection and isolation, aggressive and disruptive behaviors, attention problems, high impulsivity, poor school bonding and poor academic performance. To improve outcomes for at-risk youth, the intervention program employs a robust structure emphasizing positive reinforcement through a therapeutic group process. Six hundred forty five elementary school aged youth from Grades 2 through 5 participated in the program from 2002-2007 (336 program, 309 comparison). Results indicated that the Living Skills program participants showed improved functioning over time on all measures of school adjustment and social competency relative to a comparison group that did not receive the program. Potential program differences with respect to the targeted grade level, males and females, and individuals of Caucasian and Hispanic ethnicity are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

The Problem

The development of positive character through character education is a primary concern in educational settings (cf. Lickona, Schaps, & Lewis, 2007). Character education in a school social setting establishes the foundation upon which favorable academic, social and moral decisions will be made throughout the lifespan, and the very term "character education" highlights the fact that character is developed or taught through social training and interpersonal experience (cf. Cheung & Lee, 2009). The social aspects of character education are fundamental to self-esteem and teach young people about friendship, prosocial behavior, positive decision making, interpersonal morality, social responsibility, cooperation and reciprocity (Cheung & Lee, 2009; Miller, Kraus, & Veitkamp, 2005).

The elementary school years of a child provide an important context for the development of the social skills and positive character children need to successfully engage with their peers and thrive in an academic setting. Without the development of adequate social skills in the early school years, youth become increasingly likely to develop a myriad of co-occurring and causally related problems.

Poor social skills exhibited during the early school years predict poor peer relationships, including peer rejection and isolation (Pope, Bierman, & Mumma, 1991; Shields, Ryan, & Cicchetti, 2001; Wood, Emmerson, & Cowan, 2004). Poor social skills have been found to be correlated with or even predict school behavioral problems (Domagala-Zysk, 2006; Pope et al, 1991), antisocial behaviors (Arthur & Kuperminc, 1991), academic failure (Epstein, Kinder, & Bursuck, 1989; Hawkins, Farrington, & Catalano, 1998), and psychological disorders (Pedersen, Vitaro, Barker, & Borge, 2007). A lack of social skills is associated with peer and teacher descriptions of rejected youth as aggressive, disruptive and uncooperative (Coie & Kupersmidt, 1983) as well as lonely, depressed, and anxious (Bierman & Schwartz, 1986; Pedersen et al., 2007). Moreover, poor social skills developed as a child predict future interpersonal problems, including adult and marital relationship problems (Critchfield & Benjamin, 2008). Exacerbating the problem is the fact that social skills development reaches a critical developmental stage between ages 6 and 1 1 (Grades 1-6) or the period known as middle childhood (Erikson, 1950). It is at this age that social development shifts from the family to school, the community and peers. A review of the literature on social development indicates that these elementary school years are paramount to successful development over the lifespan; successful navigation through the psychosocial developmental period forms the basis of future positive peer interaction, acceptance versus rejection or isolation and avoidance of antisocial behaviors (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998; Parker, Rubin, Price, & DeRosier, 1995). …

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