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Be a Star

Ages 5-12

Rating: Level 3


The Be a Star program was developed to help preadolescents gain the knowledge and skills necessary to resist drugs. It built on the afterschool activities already in place at the United Church Neighborhood Houses. The UCNH serves areas where gang activity is high, where children experience high rates of abuse and neglect, where proportionately large numbers of families receive Aid to Families With Needy Children, and where the high school dropout rate is 52 percent.

Be a Star consists of afterschool groups that serve African-American children ages 5–12 and are designed to improve decision-making skills and interpersonal competence, improve cultural awareness and self-esteem, and increase unfavorable attitudes toward alcohol and drug abuse. The children attend the afterschool groups for 90 minutes once a week while school is in session. The groups include at least three segments: a physical activity period, a discussion period, and a craft activity. The physical activity period features free play and structured games and occurs when children first arrive from school. The discussion period concentrates on the topic of the group (e.g., how to make and be a friend, how others make one feel, how to feel good about the choices one makes, what one wants to be, and how one can take pride in the accomplishments of others). The third segment of the groups is making a craft or snack.


The evaluation employed a quasi-experimental design. During the 1994–95 project year, there were 17 treatment groups (386 children) and 21 comparison groups (397 children), and each group met once a week for 90 minutes from September through May when school was in session. The subjects were 5- to 12-year-old children, 96 percent of whom were African-American. The average number of sessions attended was 22.4, and the average dosage was 33½ hours per child. The experimental group received a specially designed curriculum, the emphases of which were to improve decision-making skills and interpersonal competence, increase cultural awareness and self-esteem, and increase unfavorable attitudes toward alcohol and drug abuse. Support groups for parents were also developed. The control group had a more traditional curriculum that made use of holidays and games.

Data was collected on the 9–10 and 11–12 age groups, using the Revised Protective Factors Index. The 5–6 and 7–8 age groups were first given the Revised Cultural Awareness Test and the “Draw a Person” test; then in 1995 they were given a knowledge-based test of the curriculum.


The first 2 years of the program showed inconsistent results. By 1995, differences began to emerge between the treatment and comparison groups. Using an analysis of variance (or ANOVA), the researchers found that the treatment groups scored significantly higher on the scales rating family bonding, prosocial behavior, self-concept, self-control, decision-making, emotional awareness, assertiveness, cooperation, attitudes toward drugs and alcohol, self-efficacy, attitudes toward African-American culture, and school bonding. There were no significant differences for the scales testing locus of control, outlook on life, confidence, or refusal skills.

The knowledge-based tests for the 5–6 age group showed that the treatment group was significantly more likely to recognize Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) and to know the purpose of dialing 9–1–1. There were no significant differences between the two groups of 7- to 8-year-olds.

Risk Factors


  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Child victimization and maltreatment


  • Dropping out of school
  • Low academic achievement
  • School suspensions
  • Truancy/Frequent absences


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs


Pierce, Lois H., and Nancy Shields. 1998. “The Be a Star Community-Based Afterschool Program: Developing Resiliency Factors in High-Risk Preadolescent Youth.” Journal of Community Psychology 26(2):175–83.

———. 2000. “Gender Differences in Aggressive and Violent Behavior Among African-American Preadolescents: A Comparison of the Effects of Social and Psychological Factors.” In Vasilikie Demos and Marcia T. Segal (eds.) Advances in Gender Research: Social Change for Women and Children. Stamford, Conn.: JAI Press, Inc., 227–54.

Shields, Nancy, and Lois H. Pierce. 1996. “The Effects of Race and Gender of Group Leader on the Responses of African-American Children in a Group Setting.” Journal of Applied Sociology 13:56–76.

———. 1997. “Factors Related to Aggressive and Violent Behavior Among Preadolescent African-American Boys.” St. Louis, Mo.: University of Missouri, St. Louis.

———. 2001. “Factors Related to Aggressive and Violent Behavior Among Preadolescent African-American Boys.” Violent Youth 1:51–68.


Lois H. Pierce, Ph.D., Chair
University of Missouri at St. Louis, Department of Social Work
8001 Natural Bridge Road
St. Louis, MO 63121
Phone: (314) 516-6384
Fax: (314) 516-5816