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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • TOP Club helps teenagers

  • An innovative program in St. James is addressing youth development issues with middle school children.
    The Phelps County Health Department, Prevention Consultants of Missouri, St. James Middle School and John F. Hodge High School are collaborating on the project for Phelps County teens.
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  • An innovative program in St. James is addressing youth development issues with middle school children.
    The Phelps County Health Department, Prevention Consultants of Missouri, St. James Middle School and John F. Hodge High School are collaborating on the project for Phelps County teens.
    “The TOP (Teen Outreach Program) Club is a positive youth development project that is funded by a grant from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services,” said Lisa Kean, TOP coordinator.
    “The schools provide space for meetings, but all of the program staff, supplies and mileage for staff is provided by Department of Health and a grant from Phelps County Child Advocacy Network (PCCAN).”
    According to Kean, due to the high rate of teen pregnancy and school drop-outs in Phelps County 12 years ago, a local task force was working on strategies to prevent teen pregnancy and school drop-outs.
    “This group was asked by the Department of Health to look at planning a TOP program in Phelps County, and eventually was awarded funds to implement the program,” she explained.
    “The curriculum that is provided with the grant helps teens learn about increased self-esteem, career goals and service learning in their community.  TOP has programs throughout the United States, but it originated in St. Louis.”
    In 2001, a long-term evaluation of TOP was done by Philliber Research Associates and TOP participants.
    When measured against a comparison group, TOP had an 11 percent lower rate of course failures in school, 14 percent lower rate of school suspensions, 33 percent lower rate of pregnancy and 60 percent lower school drop-out rate. Phelps County’s project will be looking at some of these same outcomes in the next year.
    Kean said that since the program started, 100 percent of the participants have not gotten pregnant or gotten anyone pregnant.
    “There has also been a decrease in failing grades, suspensions and skipping classes,” she said.
    TOP was chosen as an Effective Program that Prevents Teen Pregnancy by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and is one of the best evidenced-based programs for preventing teen pregnancy. The federal government mainly funds evidenced-based programs only so the Department of Health has met their criteria.
    Phelps County, through the Phelps/Maries County Health Department, was chosen as the first pilot site in the state for this project.
    “The program started in St. James Middle School as a TOP club in March 2004 with sixth graders,” said Kean, “and continued through 10th grade as these children moved to high school. This year we had about 38 kids attend regularly and meet weekly after school. Most of the students are considered high risk for social reasons and high learning needs, but the club is open to all middle school and high school students in St. James.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Kean said the students are excited about the program.
    “With the help of enthusiastic facilitators like Shana Stephenson and Matt Lewis, the program has been funded for 12 years,” Kean continued. “In addition to the weekly meetings, members are supposed to participate in at least 20 hours of community service learning to stay in the program. So far the group has helped clean up the City of St. James after the tornadoes, cleaned lockers to prevent flu outbreaks, went to the Missouri Veterans Home, organized a food drive for the Caring Center, rang bells for Salvation Army and worked the PCCAN miniature golf tournament and (Phelps County Bank) PCB’s Take A Stand programs.”
    Some of the outcomes from this year’s program include: 95 percent of the children were not suspended from school, 100 percent did not skip classes without permission and 74 percent did not fail any classes during the school year. One hundred percent of the students did not become pregnant or get someone pregnant.
    This program has been successful due to the continued community support through the Phelps/Maries County Health Department, Prevention Consultants of Missouri and the support of St. James Schools, Kean said.
    For more information about the program, contact Lisa Kean, BSN, TOP coordinator at the Phelps/Maries County Health Department at 573-458-6030.

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