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First Step to Success

Ages 5-6

Rating: Level 2


First Step to Success is an early intervention program designed to prevent antisocial behavior in school. The primary goal of the program is to divert antisocial kindergartners from an antisocial behavior pattern during their subsequent school careers and to develop in them the competencies needed to build effective teacher- and peer-related, social-behavioral adjustments.

The program targets at-risk kindergartners who show the early signs of an antisocial pattern of behavior (e.g., aggression, oppositional-defiant behavior, severe fits of temper, victimization of others). The intervention is based on the early-starter model of the development of antisocial behavior. Early signs of conduct problems can be detected as early as preschool. Many children bring a pattern of antisocial behavior with them from home when they enter school. This early pattern can indicate the beginning of a stable pattern of maladaptive behavior that predicts more severe problems later on when the youths are then less amenable to treatment. More severe problems include issues such as peer rejection, school dropout, and delinquency.

First Step to Success consists of three interconnected modules: 1) proactive, universal screening of all kindergarteners, 2) school intervention involving the teacher, peers, and the target child, and 3) parent/caregiver training and involvement to support the child’s school adjustment. The intervention requires about 3 months for full implementation in both school and home settings.

A key part of the program is the consultants who act as caseworkers for two to three students and are responsible for implementing and coordinating the school and home components of the intervention. Consultants are trained through lectures, videotaped demonstrations, role-playing, skill practice/feedback sessions, materials, and self-evaluation. To build implementation fidelity, training, monitoring, and supervision processes are implemented.

The facilitative strategy of the program relies on having the consultant work with teachers and parents to give them the skills to teach students replacement behaviors and reward students when those behaviors are used appropriately and consistently. Strategies for implementation include schedules for praising and awarding points, prepared scripts, daily task lists, and guidelines for application. Students are taught specific skills and behaviors to use in place of inappropriate behaviors they have used in the past. More specifically, during the school day, the consultant or teacher gives the First Step to Success student visual cues (i.e., a green or red card) to indicate whether or not he or she is on task and using appropriate behaviors. Throughout the day, the student accrues points toward his or her behavioral goal. If the student makes the daily goals, he or she gets to choose an enjoyable activity the whole class can do and appreciate.

Each evening, parents receive feedback about how their child’s day went. Parents are trained and encouraged to reward the student’s positive behavior by spending some extra time with their child at an activity, such as playing a game or taking a walk together.


A cohort design with kindergartners who met participation criteria was randomly assigned to experimental and waitlist control groups. Participation criteria were met by kindergarteners who, upon nomination by their teachers, exceeded the Early Screening Project criteria (an age-appropriate adaptation of the Systematic Screening for Behavioral Disorders) and were observed as not being appropriately engaged in teacher-assigned tasks and activities. Baseline performance measures (teacher ratings and behavioral observations) were recorded for 46 at-risk kindergartners. These participants were from two cohorts that participated over 2 years. The sample was 26 percent female and 7 percent minority status. Thirty-seven percent of the students were considered low income. Eleven children qualified for special education services (five LD, four speech-language, two severely emotionally disturbed). For both cohorts data was collected at pretest, posttest, and first grade follow-up. Cohort 1 also participated in a second grade follow-up. Data included five dependent measures: 1) teacher ratings of adaptive behavior, 2) teacher ratings of maladaptive behavior, 3) observation of appropriate attention to teacher, 4) aggression subscale on Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) teacher report form, and 5) withdrawn subscale on CBCL teacher report form. Long-term follow-up data collection is in the works.


Findings were similar for cohorts 1 and 2 (both made substantial average gains), so the samples were combined and compared with waitlist controls. Baseline measures were used as covariates in all analyses. At the postintervention point, students who participated in First Step to Success were rated by teachers as significantly more adaptive (p<.001), less aggressive (p<.001), and less maladaptive (p<.001) compared with control students. Observations made of the students’ appropriate attention to teachers indicated that the intervention subjects spent more time engaged academically (p<.05) than controls did. There were no differences between groups on teacher ratings of withdrawn behavior. Similar results were found at follow-up for cohort 1 at first grade and second grade, and for cohort 2 at first grade.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Life stressors
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder
  • Victimization and exposure to violence


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Parental use of physical punishment/Harsh and/or erratic discipline practices
  • Pattern of high family conflict


  • 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 rejection

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards


  • Effective parenting
  • High expectations
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school


Greenberg, Mark T., Celene Domitrovich, and Brian Bumbarger. 2000. Preventing Mental Disorders in School-Age Children: A Review of the Effectiveness of Prevention Programs. State College, Pa.: Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development College of Health and Human Development, Pennsylvania State University. Available online at

Walker, Hill M., Kate A. Kavanagh, Bruce Stiller, Annemieke Golly, Herbert H. Severson, and Edward G. Feil. 1998. “First Step to Success: An Early Intervention Approach for Preventing School Antisocial Behavior.” Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 6:66–81.


Hill M. Walker
The Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior
1265 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
Phone: (541) 346-3591
Fax: (541) 346-2594
Web site: