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April 3, 2003 to April 4, 2003
Bethesda, Maryland


Sponsored by: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Meeting Summary

NIDA’s Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research convened a conference entitled “What Do Schools Really Think About Prevention Research? Blending Research and Reality”on April 3-4, 2003 in Bethesda, Maryland. This conference provided a forum for discussing the challenges inherent in both conducting school-based substance abuse prevention research and implementing research-based prevention programs in schools. Researchers, practitioners (e.g., school administrators, principals, teachers), and federal agency and state representatives explored their common and differing perspectives on these issues. The agenda included individual and panel presentations, as well as interactive discussions between researchers and practitioners who attended the conference.

Invited speakers highlighted the importance of:

  • the community as the context within which schools operate, and the necessity for involving community leaders, researchers, school staff and parents in setting goals around substance abuse prevention in schools;
  • alternative designs to study prevention interventions as well as implementation of prevention programs in schools;
  • eliminating factors that affect implementation fidelity and quality;
  • understanding competing academic and non-academic demands on student time;
  • underlying principles and critical elements of effective strategies, to be able to integrate them in the school mission, academic curriculum and extracurricular activities;
  • eliminating obstacles to implementation fidelity;
  • identifying those characteristics of the organizations, providers and programs that are essential to achieving high-quality program implementation in real-world settings;
  • selecting prevention programs that match school needs, and adapting selected programs to the characteristics of the schools and students to assure relevance and local “buy in;”
  • continuous evaluation of prevention programs implemented in schools;
  • staff development and parental involvement in sustaining high-quality prevention programs in schools;
  • understanding the political, organizational and management structures of communities and schools, in order to create ling-term trust and mutual interest between researchers, practitioners and civic leaders;
  • understanding and linking together several initiatives by governmental agencies to augment capacity for prevention activities at local, community and school levels;
  • developing and operating partnerships between public education and public health in urban, suburban and rural settings in order to fight substance abuse among youth.

Conference participants highlighted the importance of the following additional issues in their interactive discussions: 

  • developing and disseminating tools and techniques which can be used by practitioners to conduct systematic needs/readiness assessment, as well as selection, implementation, evaluation and maintenance of evidence-based prevention programs;
  • providing funds for technical assistance and training to schools to enhance teachers’ knowledge and capacity for program implementation, research and evaluation;
  • establishing trust and respect between researchers and school staff facilitate informed consent from parents for research involving students;
  • using evaluation data to show the impact of prevention on student behaviors, as well as demonstrating a clear link between academic achievement and prevention to community leaders;
  • developing simple and useable evaluation methods to reduce the burden and increase the utility of data which can be used for both research and evaluation purposes;
  • unifying standards for science-based, evidence-based and model prevention programs;
  • developing prevention programs that focus on multiple maladaptive behaviors and academic failure to create more interest and support from school systems for prevention;
  • conducting systems research on moving effective programs to scale and providing essential information for proper implementation and maintenance of effective programs over time;
  • providing adequate funding for maintaining effective programs in schools after research has been completed;
  • testing and tailoring prevention programs to make them appropriate for diverse populations with variable risk levels, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic locations (one size does not fit all);
  • coordinating funding across federal, state and private sources to concurrently support education and prevention programs (i.e., ideally creating one grant process);
  • developing prevention programs that are comprehensive, user-friendly and grounded in school reality (e.g., competing academic goals, teacher shortage/turnover, and school mission);
  • crafting federal services grant programs which can offer grantees at least one year of fiscal and technical support in order to help conduct needs/readiness assessment and planning.