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The impact of a middle school program to reduce aggression, victimization, and sexual violence

Dorothy L. Espelage, Sabina Low, Joshua R. Polanin, Eric C. Brown


PURPOSE: To evaluate the impact of the Second Step: Student Success Through Prevention (SS-SSTP) Middle School Program on reducing youth violence including peer aggression, peer victimization, homophobic name calling, and sexual violence perpetration and victimization among middle school sixth-grade students.
METHODS: The study design was a nested cohort (sixth graders) longitudinal study. We randomly assigned 18 matched pairs of 36 middle schools to the SS-SSTP or control condition. Teachers implemented 15 weekly lessons of the sixth-grade curriculum that focused on social emotional learning skills, including empathy, communication, bully prevention, and problem-solving skills. All sixth graders (n = 3,616) in intervention and control conditions completed self-report measures assessing verbal/relational bullying, physical aggression, homophobic name calling, and sexual violence victimization and perpetration before and after the implementation of the sixth-grade curriculum.
RESULTS: Multilevel analyses revealed significant intervention effects with regard to physical aggression. The adjusted odds ratio indicated that the intervention effect was substantial; individuals in intervention schools were 42% less likely to self-report physical aggression than students in control schools. We found no significant intervention effects for verbal/relational bully perpetration, peer victimization, homophobic teasing, and sexual violence.
CONCLUSIONS: Within a 1-year period, we noted significant reductions in self-reported physical aggression in the intervention schools. Results suggest that SS-SSTP holds promise as an efficacious prevention program to reduce physical aggression in adolescent youth.