Q&A: Caroline Miller on Oakland, CA’s Anti-Dating Violence Pilot
In four cities across the nation, projects supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been piloting the CDC-developed Dating Matters anti-teen dating violence program. The projects aim to promote healthy relationships on a large scale and bring down rates of violence not just in schools but also in cities and communities.
(For more on that, read our interview with Andra Tharp, the CDC health scientist who leads the initiative.)
Each pilot project--in Oakland, CA, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Chicago, and Baltimore--is run as a randomized trial (PDF, 85KB) at about 10 middle schools. Each school is implementing either the “standard practice,” in which eighth-graders get an evidence-based anti-dating violence curriculum, or the “comprehensive approach,” which provides anti-dating violence education to students and parents from sixth to eighth grade. Outcomes of the two approaches will be compared when the study concludes; the evaluation is being conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.
Now that the initiative is in its fourth year and the pilot studies are in their third year of implementation, we sat down with Caroline Miller, program specialist at the Alameda County Public Health Department, to talk about progress at the Oakland site, where 1,742 students at 10 schools participated last year. We learned that the project started out employing health educators to lead the student curricula, but will have shifted by the start of the next academic year to having school staff lead most of the student component.
Read on to find out why that change happened and what else Miller has learned about implementing evidence-based curricula in urban schools.
NCFY: What were the lessons learned from the initial stages of the demonstration project, and what changes have you made to the program?
Caroline Miller: I think most notably when I reflect back, it’s really on the student component, given the scale of the project and the number of young people that we’re serving. We realized that we needed to train school staff to lead some of the student implementation. Not only would it support our larger goal of school site capacity building and sustaining the program, but we knew that it would improve student engagement, because the teachers already have that rapport with their young people. They understand all the different learning styles of the young people, and are going to be able to support and build on those messages throughout the school year, versus health educators just being there for one moment in time.
Additionally, we learned that we needed to be really intentional about how we approached and implemented the student curricula in every classroom, while still maintaining fidelity to the project. In the morning, a lot of the young people just were falling out of bed, getting to school. Many hadn’t eaten breakfast. So we started bringing healthy breakfast snacks, tried to do some energizers, some stretching early in the morning. In the afternoon they were coming off of lunch, maybe a little tired, ready to go home, so we had to incorporate some more energizers, some more stretching, prior to starting implementation. So just those small adaptations would help them focus so that they could do what needs to be done.
We dedicated a great deal of time to collaborating with teachers to plan for allowable adaptations in every classroom, and really starting to incorporate some best practices based on the needs of the students.
NCFY: What adaptations have you made to the curricula to create safety in the classroom for students who have had traumatic experiences?
Miller: We work with the teachers to either duplicate what they’re already doing or to bring in some of our own strategies. So it just depends on the classroom and what might be allowable. But a lot of those strategies are already being incorporated throughout Oakland schools, so we’ve learned a lot as we’ve gone to different school sites. What one school’s incorporating and what we bring in really varies from school site to school site.
But I would say, before we even walk into the classroom, the way that the classroom’s set up, so that no one has their back to anyone, or to the door. That’s something that we see often in the classrooms. Also, we bring in an agenda every day, so that young people know what to expect, what the objective of the day is for every session. When they come in [to the classroom], there’s a “do now.” The “do now” could be a question prompt, it could be a worksheet, where it allows them to focus and think about the session.
Having closing circles and reflections at the end has been really helpful. Having just signals of when we need to come together, and something that’s not dramatic, so I wouldn’t turn the lights off and on. We typically just do a countdown or whatever the classroom teacher does. Sometimes the teachers have bells or chimes, so we just use that.
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