Building Bonds: The Evolution of Project DREAM’s Youth-Adult Afterschool Program

Reference: Hurd, N. M., & Billingsley, J. (2023). Project DREAM: Iterative development of an afterschool program with an emphasis on youth–adult relationships. American Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study:

Research has found that while supportive relationships are very important in supporting social and emotional well-being, as well as academic success, up to one in three adolescents have a lack of supportive relationships with non-parental adults, highlighting the need for programs such as this. The Project DREAM intervention is a novel after-school program designed to foster supportive relationships between adolescents and nonparental adults already in their network. The program adheres to positive youth development best practices, and through a series of eight sessions, it assists youth in pinpointing adults in their networks who can support them by fostering their social and emotional development to promote academic achievement. The program also helps adults understand how they can play an important role in youths’ lives. Overall, this article focuses on the two-year iterative development process of the Project DREAM intervention, aiming to describe revisions made to make the program maximally usable and acceptable to both school staff and participants before formal evaluation.

Key components: 

  • Curriculum revisions to improve acceptability: Activities used during sessions were revised or replaced to make them more relevant and engaging to youth (such as adding in activities surrounding social media and/or using games youth were already familiar with) while also creating more scaffolding for projects to maintain their instructional nature while still allowing for creativity and flexibility.
  • Increased facilitator usability: The curriculum was simplified with more flexibility built into it to make it more easily implemented through a process of balancing the need for both curriculum fidelity and engagement. Revisions to the facilitator training were made in order to instruct facilitators on how to better balance engagement and curriculum fidelity through the use of recommended strategies. This included more opportunities to practice delivering content and using strategies.
  • Enhancements in positive participation and engagement: To boost positive engagement and participation a positive reinforcement system was added through which participants could earn tickets that could be exchanged for prizes.
  • Strengthening intergenerational bonds: Additional trainings were created for the adults to help them learn about boundary setting and communication. More opportunities for adults to participate in the main sessions were created through things such as actively providing time for adults to share and respond to activities as well as having the youth respond.
  • Supporting parents’ acceptability of the intervention: Parent newsletters were added to inform parents about what happened in each session to help them feel more in the loop and also get to learn from the program as well.
  • Overall the program was found to be viable with youth successfully being able to generate a list of positive adults in their lives at the end of the program.

Implications for Mentoring: 

The iterative development process of Project DREAM improved an already promising approach to helping adolescents build supportive relationships with nonparental adults. In the world of mentoring, this intervention stands out by emphasizing the importance of strengthening bonds with adults that are already a part of the youth’s life, which aligns with the growing calls for alternatives to traditional mentoring strategies. Next steps include a rigorous randomized control trial of Project DREAM to determine its effectiveness in improving academic outcomes via increasing adolescents’ connectedness with adults and social and emotional development. In order to scale the program the authors call for continued efforts to improve the program’s affordability and sustainability. Still, this process of iterative development has yielded a promising version of the intervention, with future work now turning toward realizing its full potential and impact in the world of mentoring.

To access the article click here.