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East Texas Experiential Learning Center

Ages 12-13

Rating: Level 3


The goal of the East Texas Experiential Learning Center was to reduce multiple risk factors for the use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and inhalants (ATIDI) among economically disadvantaged seventh graders in Nacogdoches, a rural East Texas community. The project consisted of school-based intervention, afterschool trips, weekend day trips at local wilderness facilities and forestlands, Wilderness Challenge Ropes adventure camp (5-day sessions), and community-based programming.

Objectives of the project:

  • Improve high-risk youths’ social competence.
  • Increase high-risk youths’ feelings of autonomy.
  • Increase high-risk youths’ sense of purpose and future.
  • Increase high-risk youths’ cognitive and social problem-solving skills.
  • Increase high-risk youths’ perception of harm of ATIDI use by themselves and their peers.
  • Increase high-risk youths’ involvement in alternative activities that do not include ATIDI use.
  • Decrease high-risk youths’ level of conflict and violence in the home, school, and community.
  • Increase negative attitudes toward ATIDI use among youths, peers, family, school, and community.
  • Increase the involvement of family, school, neighborhood, and community in dealing with ATIDI problems.
  • Enhance the climate at home, school, and in the community.
  • Increase perception of harm of ATIDI use in the family, school, and community.
  • Increase parenting and teaching skills.


The research design of this study was a pretest–posttest, comparison-group experimental design. The sample population was randomly selected from incoming seventh grade students at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School in Nacogdoches who were assigned to either a treatment group or a control group. The population base over a 3-year period consisted of four cohorts, with 396 treatment subjects and 257 control subjects. However, this study is restricted to cohort 4, which was the only complete year of the grant. Cohort 4 consisted of 105 treatment subjects (54 percent white, 28 percent African-American, and 18 percent Hispanic) and 93 control subjects (55 percent white, 32 percent African-American, and 13 percent Hispanic). All students were assessed preintervention and postintervention through the National Youth Survey, which measures risk factors, resiliency, self-efficacy, ATIDI attitudes, ATIDI use, personal autonomy, self-esteem and self-image, adjustment issues, and parent, school, intellectual, and school bonding.


It appears that experiential and adventure education does produce some observable change with seventh grade students in several areas of performance. The program succeeded in promoting resiliency and a sense of trust in the school or treatment environment. In addition, the intervention significantly improved overall academic performance, and discipline reports were significantly fewer for the experimental group than for the control group.

The study was limited in that researchers were able to collect data on only one cohort, which does not allow for the comparison of different treatment groups. Owing to time constraints, the study was unable to determine whether participants in experiential learning differ on numerous personality traits or if they indirectly differ on educational characteristics from those who do not wish to participate. Another limitation is the nature of the National Youth Survey, which is directed to a population unlike the one found in rural East Texas.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early sexual involvement
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Low parent education level/Illiteracy
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Social and physical disorder/Disorganized neighborhood


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers
  • Gang involvement/Gang membership
  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • High expectations
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Above average academic achievement / Reading and math skills
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • High expectations
  • Nondisadvantaged neighborhood
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs


Caramanian, Paul. 1998. “The Impact of Experiential Learning on the Perception of Seventh Grade Students Regarding the Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, Other Drugs, and Inhalants.” Unpublished Dissertation. Houston, Texas: Texas Southern University.

Choate, Robert. 1999. “East Texas Experiential Learning Center: Final Report.” Nacogdoches, Texas: East Texas Experiential Learning Center.


Bruce Payette, Ph.D.
SFA Station
P.O. Box 13019
Nacogdoches, TX 75962