University of Minnesota Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center

Positive Action


Early adolescence is a critical period of physical, emotional, mental and social transformation with major impacts on both education and health outcomes.  During the middle school years (ages 11‐14), engagement in many health risk behaviors – bullying, physical fighting, tobacco use, drinking – tends to spike while at the same time connections to school and student achievement tend to decline.  More attention needs to be given to re-engaging young people who are disengaged from school, many of whom are at risk for not completing high school.

The University of Minnesota Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center (PRC) core research project will focus on this intersection of health and academic outcomes for students from culturally diverse middle schools in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area.  The proposed research involves four middle schools across urban and suburban neighborhoods and serve diverse student populations where opportunities exist to improve both academic and health outcomes. The PRC research team will evaluate delivery of an evidence-based program known as Positive Action that builds social-emotional skills for students as they progress through 6th, 7th, and 8th grades in all four schools. The goal is to build on previously documented reductions in behaviors such as bullying, fighting, alcohol and tobacco use and improvements in school attendance, math and reading scores within a middle school context. In two of the four schools, the research team will also implement a professional development program aimed at increasing teachers’ capacities to engage their students in learning.  Researchers expect that the impact of Positive Action on youth outcomes will be enhanced by providing teachers with specific training and coaching in positive youth development and educational equity.  Overall, this project aims engage students in learning and reduce health risk behaviors (bullying, violence, and substance use), by identifying an innovative approach for increasing the capacity of middle schools to address health and educational disparities.

Project Identifier Positive Action

Funding Source PRC Program

Project Status Active

Host Institution University of Minnesota

Health Topics Healthy youth | Substance abuse prevention | Violence prevention

Research setting City/Town |School or school district | Urban area

Race or ethnicity African American or black, Asian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino, and White

Gender No specific focus

Age group Children (4-11) | Adolescents (12-19 years)

Contact Information Center
Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center
717 Delaware Street SE, Room 370
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Principal Investigator
Barbara J. McMorris, PhD

PRC Deputy Director
Renee Sieving
Phone: (612) 626-4527