High School program linked to lower substance use, better health behaviors

New UCLA-led research finds that a college preparatory program for youth experiencing educational inequities that operates in about 13% of U.S public high schools has a positive effect on students’ social networks, psycho-social outcomes, and health behaviors.

The findings, published Dec. 16 in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics, suggests that the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program, aimed at increasing educational opportunities for under-represented and economically disadvantaged students, also significantly reduces substance use.

“Academic tracking” is a common practice in high schools through which lower-performing students are clustered with others of similar academic achievement. Although intended to tailor academic rigor to students’ level of preparation, the study findings suggest that this practice may be counterproductive by reinforcing risky behaviors that students pick up from their peers.

“Untracking” these students by mixing them in with higher-performing peers may lead to better physical and psychological health, said lead author Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz, associate professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“This is the first randomized controlled trial of AVID in the United States, so it’s really exciting to see that this program that was designed to help open up educational opportunities for kids, also improved their health,” Dudovitz said.

AVID works with high school students earning B or C grade averages who might not otherwise be placed in more rigorous college preparatory tracks. It operates in 5,400 secondary schools, including both middle and high school, in 46 states and exposes academically middling students to tougher courses than they would have been assigned to under normal circumstances. AVID helps students develop agency, relational capacity, and opportunity knowledge.

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