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STEP (School Transitional Environmental Program)

Ages 12-18

Rating: Level 2


STEP (School Transitional Environmental Program) is a school organizational change initiative that seeks to decrease student anonymity, increase student accountability, and enhance students’ abilities to learn school rules and exceptions. The program targets students in transition from elementary and middle schools who are in large urban junior high and high schools with multiple feeders serving predominantly nonwhite lower income youths. Students remain in intact small groups for their homeroom period and their academic subjects (these classrooms are physically close together). Homeroom teachers act as administrators and guidance counselors, providing class schedule assistance, academic counseling in school, and counseling in school for personal problems. Teachers also explain the project to parents and notify them of student absences. Project students are assigned to homerooms in which all classmates are STEP participants, and they are enrolled in the same core classes to help develop stable peer groups and enhance participants’ familiarity with the school.


Several studies have examined the STEP program. The first two used a quasi-experimental research design with comparison groups. In these studies, incoming high school students (ninth graders) in a primarily nonwhite, lower income school were assigned either to a small “school within the school,” consisting of 65 to 100 students (the STEP program), or to a traditional format. The total sample included 172 students—59 in the intervention group and 113 matched controls. Student performance on several outcomes was evaluated at the end of ninth grade, and then a follow-up study was conducted 5 years later. A major limitation to the original evaluation research on this program was that the first studies lacked pretest measures. However, the researchers reported no differences with respect to attendance and grades at baseline between treated students and controls.

A replication study using a quasi-experimental design was conducted on 154 ninth grade students in a predominantly Hispanic, low-income, urban high school. Half of the sample was assigned to the experimental group, with the other half assigned to the control group. Students were evaluated on their academic and behavioral adjustment to school. Data was collected from their eighth (preintervention) and ninth (postintervention) grade records.

Another replication involved a longitudinal quasi-experimental study comparing four “low risk” schools that have implemented STEP with four that have not. The sample consisted of 1,204 intervention students and 761 control students. Fifty-eight percent of the sample transitioned into junior high in the sixth grade, while 42 percent did so in the seventh grade. Measures were taken on school transition stress, psychological distress, behavior problems, academic expectations, and classroom behavioral adaptation. The sample was followed during their transition year and the year after.


Evaluations performed at the end of ninth grade demonstrate that STEP students, compared with control students, display decreases in absenteeism and increases in grade point average; stability of self-concept (compared with decreases for control students); and more positive feelings of the school environment, perceiving the school as more stable, understandable, well-organized, involving, and supportive. Long-term follow-up indicated that STEP students, compared with controls, had lower dropout rates (21 percent versus 43 percent), and higher grades and fewer absences in 9th and 10th grades.

The evaluation of the STEP program with lower risk students in junior high demonstrated that STEP students, compared with control students, showed significantly lower levels of school transition stress and better adjustment on measures of school, family, general self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and delinquent behavior, and higher levels of academic expectations. Teachers in the STEP schools reported that their students had better classroom adjustment behavior and fewer problem behaviors. Academic records show that STEP students had significantly better grades and attendance patterns.

Risk Factors


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


  • Dropping out of school
  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • School suspensions
  • Truancy/Frequent absences


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

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • High expectations
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Above average academic achievement / Reading and math skills
  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • NIJ: What Works
  • HHS: Surgeon General


Felner, Robert D., and Angela M. Adan. 1988. “The School Transitional Environment Project: An Ecological Intervention and Evaluation.” In Richard H. Price and Raymond P. Lorion (eds.). 14 Ounces of Prevention: A Casebook for Practitioners. Washington, DC: American Psychology Association.

Felner, Robert D., Stephen Brand, Angela M. Adan, P.F. Mulhall, N. Flowers, B. Sartain, and David L. DuBois. 1993. “Restructuring the Ecology of the School as an Approach to Prevention During School Transitions: Longitudinal Follow-Ups and Extensions of the School Transitional Environment Project. Prevention in Human Services 10(2):103–36.

Felner, Robert D., Melanie Ginter, and Judith Primavera. 1982. “Primary Prevention During School Transition: Social Support and Environmental Structure.” American Journal of Community Psychology 10(3):277–90.

Reyes, Olga, and Leonard A. Jason. 1991. “An Evaluation of a High School Dropout Prevention Program.” Journal of Community Psychology 19:221–30.


Dr. Robert D. Felner
University of Rhode Island
705 Chafee Hall
University of Rhode Island, School of Education
Kingston, RI 02881
Phone: (401) 874-2564
Fax: (401) 874-5471