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Fast Track is a comprehensive intervention project designed to look at how children develop across their lives by providing academic tutoring and lessons in developing social skills and regulating their behaviors. Selection began when the participants entered kindergarten and children were placed either in the intervention group or the control group. The intervention was guided by a developmental theory stating the interaction of multiple influences on the development of behavior. There can be multiple stressors and influences on children and families that increase their risk levels. In such contexts, some families that experience marital conflict and instability can cause inconsistent and ineffective parenting. These children can sometimes enter school poorly prepared for the social, emotional, and cognitive demands of this setting. Often the child will then attend a school with a high number of other children who are similarly unprepared and are negatively influenced by disruptive classroom situations and punitive teacher practices. Over time, children in these circumstances tend to demonstrate particular behaviors, are rejected by families and peers, and tend to receive less support from teachers, further increasing aggressive exchanges and academic difficulties.
As youth get older, their risk for these behaviors increase due to peer influences, academic difficulties, and their personal identity development. The Fast Track project is thus based on the hypothesis that improving child competencies, parenting effectiveness, school context and school-home communications will, over time, contribute to preventing certain behaviors across the period from early childhood through adolescence.
Fast Track identified a sample of children in kindergarten through a multistage screening of nearly 10,000 children. With four communities participating (Durham, Nashville, rural Pennsylvania, and Seattle) and with the help of researchers from Washington University, Vanderbilt University, Duke University, and Penn State University, sets of schools were matched on size, ethnic composition, and poverty, and were randomly assigned to intervention and control conditions. Three successive cohorts were recruited in 1991, 1992, and 1993 to yield a sample of 891 children (445 in the intervention group and 446 in the control group). Attrition throughout the study has been low, with participation rates for year 19 and 20 at 80 percent.
The developmental model guiding this project stated that an effective prevention program would address classroom, school risk, and family risk factors, including communication between parent and schools. The most intense phase of the intervention took place in the first grade year for each of three successive cohorts. The six components of the elementary school phase of the intervention (grades 1-5) include:
The adolescent phase of the intervention project (grades 6-10) included standard and individualized activities for youth and families receiving the intervention. Curriculum-based parent and youth group meetings were included in the intervention to support children in their transition into middle school (grades 5-7). The focus of this phase of the intervention was primarily on individualized prevention planning, according to criterion-based assessment. Individualized services designed to strengthen protective factors and reduce risk factors in areas of particular need for each youth include home visiting and family problem-solving and liaisons with school and community agencies.