Teen Outreach Program (TOP)
Overview of the Curriculum
The Teen Outreach Program™ (TOP™) is a national youth development program designed to prevent adolescent problem behaviors by helping adolescents develop a positive self-image, effective life management skills, and achievable goals. The program is directed toward reducing rates of teenage pregnancy, school failure, and school suspension. The focus is to engage young people in a high level of community service learning that is closely linked to classroom-based discussions of future life options. The program can be integrated into the school curriculum and is also implemented as an out-of-school program through community-based youth organizations, local health departments, and social service agencies. The program consists of supervised community service learning, classroom-based discussions, and activities related to key social-developmental tasks of adolescence.
There are three essential goals in TOP where teens can build a foundation of success:
- Healthy Behaviors positive, constructive actions that allow young people to be successful now and later in life.
- Life Skills competencies necessary to grow into healthy, self-sustaining adults.
- Sense of Purpose knowledge of their own worth as they contribute to their communities through meaningful service.
TOP™ groups meet at least once a week throughout the school year (nine months) to discuss topics from the Changing Scenes© curriculum, including communication skills/assertiveness, understanding and clarifying values, relationships, goal-setting, influences, decision-making, and adolescent health and sexual development. Although pregnancy prevention is a main outcome of the TOP™ program, less than 15 percent of the curriculum would be considered sex education. The curriculum uses a variety of experiential methods to engage youth, including small-group discussions and role-playing.
Unique Features of the Curriculum
Community Service: Participants engage in a minimum of 20 hours of community service learning per academic year. TOP™ staff guide the youth in choosing, planning, implementing, reflecting on, and celebrating their service learning project. Service projects may include direct service, indirect service, or civic actions. A community service learning guide aids discussions about volunteer experiences to tie together the classroom and community service learning aspects of the program, allowing youth to process and reflect on their service activities. Group facilitators include teachers, guidance personnel, or youth workers who have been trained to facilitate the discussions outlined in the curriculum.
Wyman's TOP™ curriculum is packed in four age/stage appropriate levels and is based upon the principles of youth development, and the socio-emotional well being and mental health of teens.
Wyman’s TOP™ is a program that fits into the existing framework of Response to Intervention, or RTI for prevention and positive development with its focus on resiliency factors or contributions to positive mental health to be built through universal strengths-based programs for young people. Within the areas of academic and behavioral systems, the RTI model recommends universal, primary prevention activities for all youth, with the understanding that this level of intervention will be sufficient for 80-90% of students to develop necessary skills and competencies. These primary prevention activities then serve as a context within which trained school personnel identify the students who require targeted group interventions, intensive, individual interventions, or both.
Key aspects of the TOP™ approach linked to youth outcomes include:
- Continuity of the program
- Weekly group discussions and activities Youth-initiated community service learning
- Connections with a skilled, caring adult in the program
Ordering and Training Information
Ordering: Four levels of the "Changing Scenes" curriculum are available to ensure age/stage-appropriate activities. The curriculum also includes a community service learning guide. Wyman Center at http://wymancenter.org/nationalnetwork/top/ has more information on materials and related costs.
Training:Organizations that wish to bring TOP™ to their community must become a replication partner with Wyman. Certified replication partners are youth development practitioners who are trained by Wyman to deliver and replicate TOP in their communities. Certified replication partners are the foundation of the TOP Network and are committed to delivering TOP with fidelity with the goal of achieving high outcomes with teens.
Evaluation Fact Sheet
The TOP program is grounded in contemporary research and theory regarding the developmental, social and educational needs of young people in 6th to 12th grade. It is proven highly effective in increasing school success and protecting youth from risk factors that contribute to school drop-out and teen pregnancy.
At the 9-month follow-up: female adolescents participating in the program were significantly less likely to report a pregnancy during the academic year of the program.
Other Significant Findings
The 2001 study outcomes confirmed program effectiveness and indicated that TOP™ is even more effective for students at highest initial risk for problem behaviors:
- 52% lower risk of school suspension
- 60% lower risk of course failure
- Significantly higher levels of success for teen parents: 1/5 the repeat pregnancy risk relative to parenting teens in comparison group
- Significantly higher levels of success for students with a history of school suspension
- 53% lower risk of pregnancy
- Significantly higher levels of success for females and racial/ethnic minorities
Quantitative pre-post studies of treatment and randomized control/matched comparison groups, using self-report questionnaires and archival data review of school records to assess the impact of TOP participation on students’ problem behaviors.
Allen et al. (1997) conducted a study between 1991 and 1995 involving 25 TOP sites nationwide. All active TOP sites were invited to participate in the evaluation. The 25 participating sites represented roughly 10 percent of all the TOPs. Teens at each site were randomly assigned to treatment or control status, usually at the student level and less frequently at the classroom level. Analysis of demographic characteristics of the TOP and control groups found that the groups were similar at program entry. More than 80 percent of the participants were female, approximately 67 percent were black, and approximately 46 percent resided in two-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of the study population was in grades 9 and 10, approximately 20 percent was in grade 11, and approximately 11 percent was in the 12th grade.
A total of 695 students were randomized at the start of the study, with 342 students in the treatment group and 353 in the control group. All participants were assessed via questionnaire at entry (one to two weeks into the course) and upon completion of the program (at the end of the school year) on their background characteristics and histories of problem behaviors. Despite random assignment procedures, at baseline the control group was found to have significantly higher levels of prior course failure, school suspension, and teen pregnancy than the treatment group. A site-by-site inspection of the 25 sites found that one site had a control group with a significantly higher prevalence of risk factors and prior problem behaviors, and two sites had failed in efforts to track control students. As a result, these three sites were excluded from the study, resulting in a total of 22 program sites included in the analyses.
For more information about TOP:
See Service Learning in ReCAPP's Theories and Approaches.
Allen, Joseph, and Susan Philliber. Who Benefits Most from a Broadly Targeted Prevention Program? Differential Efficacy Across Populations in the Teen Outreach Program, Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 6, 2001, pp. 637-655.
Allen, Joseph, Susan Philliber, Scott Herrling, and Gabriel P. Kuperminc. Preventing Teen Pregnancy and Academic Failure: Experimental Evaluation of a Developmentally Based Approach. Child Development, Vol. 68, No. 4, 1997, pp.729-742.