LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas professors have landed a grant to address common health concerns and promote positive youth development among urban Latino youth.
Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, assistant professor of social welfare, and Paula Fite, assistant professor of applied behavioral science and psychology, have landed a Strategic Initiative grant from the University of Kansas. The researchers will work with a charter school in the Kansas City area that was founded to address high school dropout rates in the Latino community.
The school’s enrollment is approximately 200 students, the vast majority of whom are Latino. The researchers plan to develop a culturally relevant education program to prevent the problems of teen pregnancy and substance abuse among the school’s youth through a set of practices known as positive youth development.
“What we’ve seen in the research is positive youth development has a downward effect on teen pregnancy and other risky behaviors,” Johnson-Motoyama said.
The researchers will conduct surveys with the school’s students and hold focus groups with teachers and parents as well to gain an understanding of how they view issues such as teen pregnancy, reproductive health and drug and alcohol use. They will also study interventions used to address similar concerns among Latino populations in other parts of the country to see what has and has not been effective.
Once they have gathered opinions from students, teachers and parents and completed a review of similar interventions, the researchers will work with the school community to devise a positive youth development intervention for the students. The faculty members plan to seek federal grant funding in the fall of 2013 to implement and evaluate the program. If it proves successful, they plan to make it more widely available to schools and community programs across the nation.
The program will be unique in its basis in the school community’s attitudes and understandings of the problems and reflection of their culture. Research has shown that such programs, when not culturally relevant, are often less effective, Johnson-Motoyama said. There is also evidence that when positive youth development programs are effective in reducing adolescent pregnancy rates, rates of other risk-taking behaviors decline as well.
The overarching goal of the program is to reduce adolescent pregnancies, the majority of which are unplanned or unwanted, as well as reduce rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and substance abuse among the school’s students.
The researchers’ backgrounds will also inform the program. Johnson-Motoyama specializes in immigration and child welfare and community-based approaches to research, while Fite is experienced in understanding the psychology of risk-taking behaviors and intervention research.
“By addressing such problems at a young age,” Johnson-Motoyama said, “our hope is to reduce adult disparities in health and well-being by improving academic achievement, and making gains in high school completion and college enrollment.”