Core Research Project

In each grant cycle, all PRCs conduct prevention research in community settings. Our 2014-2019 PRC core research study returns to school-based settings: it aims to improve health and academic outcomes for young adolescents while reducing the achievement gap. We will investigate the synergy between an evidence-based, social-emotional learning program for students and youth development-focused professional development for teachers. This project builds on our previous work funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences with the Konopka Institute for Best Practices in Adolescent Health. 

School Connectedness + School Engagement = Improved academic and health outcomes

Our pioneering work with healthy youth development strategies reveals that:

  • When young people's developmental needs are addressed,
  • When young people feel connected to school and their teachers,
  • When young people are engaged with learning and their environment,

We see measurable improvements in school outcomes and graduate rates as well as increase health and wellness. 

Evidence-based Classroom Programming: Social Emotional Learning (Lions Quest Skills for Adolescence)

Lions Quest Skills for Adolescence is a systemic educational program that promotes an intrinsic interest in learning and encourages cooperation among students.  It focuses on creating a positive school envrionment that leads to improved behavior and improved academic outcomes. Skills for Adolescence is aimed at the developmental concerns and developmental tasks of middle schoolers and supports their social and emotional skills' growth.

In this grant cycle, the PRC is continuing the research inquiry for this evidence-based program by investigating it's efficacy in middle-school settings and its impacts specifically among "disengaged" students.

Teacher Team Professional Development

The PRC looks to enhance student outcomes by adding a teacher-focused intervention to the mix.  Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and implemented by colleagues at the Konopka Institute for Best Practices in Adolescent Health, "The Minnesota Partnership for School Connectedness" worked to increase connections between sixth grade teachers and their students, resulting in increased student engagement among the most disengaged learners.

Aligned with the Konopka Institute's long-standing emphasis on engaging adults in health youth development strategies that support young people, MPSC innovated traditional teacher professional development programs; introduced changes in teacher practices and ways of identifying and responding to student's needs - particularly the needs of the least engaged students. 

Innovative Teacher Professional Development
  • A year-long approach
  • Responding directly to teacher needs
  • Routinely addressing issues of equity and diversity
  • Providing professional coaching
  • Conducting classroom observations and delivering timely feedback

MPSC introduced changes in teacher practice and ways of identifying and responding to students' needs, particularly the needs of the least engaged students. School districts that participated in MPSC changed:

  • How teachers are observed in the classroom,
  • How student behaviors are addressed,
  • How the unique needs of students of color are recognized and acknowledged,
  • How new programming is identified to address the needs of both students and teachers alike.


The MPSC project measured both teacher and student outcomes. These included:

Teacher Outcomes
  • Improved capacities for building relationships with students
  • Increased skills in providing engaged instruction
  • Enhanced focus on engaging the most disengaged learners
  • Increased professional support from administrators
Student Outcomes

In general, students initially classified as engaged maintained high and fairly steady levels of engagement.  Students classified as disengaged during the Fall, became significantly more engaged during the school year.