CDC awards UGA researchers $900,000 grant to study teen behaviors in high school

ATHENS, Ga. –  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded a $900,000 grant to researchers at the University of Georgia for a three-year study of high school students to help identify factors that lead to positive social and academic development, as well as factors that may contribute to aggressive behaviors and school dropout.

Pamela Orpinas, associate professor in the College of Public Health, who has recently published a book entitled “Bullying Prevention,” is one of four principal investigators who will be following 800 students at eight high schools in northeast Georgia. The other principal investigators are Deborah Bandalos and Andy Horne, professors in the College of Education and Trisha Reeves, an associate professor in the School of Social Work.

Orpinas says aggression among high school students can take many forms, ranging from teasing and name-calling, to pushing and shoving, to the extreme of bringing weapons to school.

The new study, called “Healthy Teens,” is a continuation of a previous grant that followed the same students through middle school. “Healthy Teens” will study factors that protect students from violence-related behaviors, including aggression toward peers, delinquency, dating violence, weapon carrying, drug and alcohol use, suicide thoughts and attempts, and school dropout.

“We want to examine what factors are the best predictors of academic success,” Orpinas said. “We hope to find factors that are modifiable that schools can work on to help students be more successful in the classroom and with the transition to high school.”

The study will require that: the high school students to complete a computer survey every spring for the next three years; teachers complete a standardized and nationally-normed student behavioral rating; data be collected on student attendance, standardized test scores and discipline records; interviews be conducted with students who drop out of school; and focus groups are conducted with students to better understand the meaning of violence-related behaviors and of protective factors.

“This mixed-method approach will provide a comprehensive and in-depth description of the most significant factors that protect students from violence,” Orpinas said.