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University study shows FreeWay curriculum reduces drug use in Missouri public schools by 19%

Results of a scientific study conducted under the auspices of Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis, reveal that the FreeWay curriculum is making a positive, significant difference in the lives of public school students in the state, according to Dr. Curt Scarborough, former president of the FreeWay Foundation and author of the curriculum.

J. D. Boren, PH.D., CCES, chair of Natural and Health Sciences at the college, supervised the survey and wrote the official report on the results. According to Boren, the survey included 1,070 students, grades 4 through 8, in 18 representative public school districts across the state. Twelve of these districts were serviced by FreeWay prevention specialists, and six districts served as a control group.

The objective of the survey was to compare the percentage of drug-free students who did sign a FreeWay non-use pledge card during the 1997-98 school year with the percentage of drug-free students who did not sign a pledge card. In March, 1999, Boren and his colleagues gathered information designed to measure the effectiveness of the alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention activities conducted by FreeWay, a statewide agency with headquarters in St. Louis County.

The questionnaire used in both FreeWay districts and in the control districts was identical. Students were asked to identify themselves only by gender and grade level. For the survey, "drug-free" meant total non-use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (except for medical purposes) during the present school year. Students were asked to respond to the following two statements:
  1. I signed a FreeWay card last school year, pledging to live drug-free. (check one: yes or no.)
  2. I have lived a drug-free life this school year. (check one: yes or no.)

According to Dr. Boren, non-pledging students in grades 4-8 were 67.7% drug-free during the twelve months preceding the study. Students who did sign a FreeWay non-use pledge card in these same schools were 86.8% drug-free. That’s a 19.1% difference.

"On a typical day in a school, a FreeWay prevention specialist will lead at least 100 students to sign a non-use pledge card," Scarborough said. "One year later, 87 of them still will be drug-free. But if FreeWay had not taught in that school, and challenged those 100 students to make a pledge of non-use, only 68 of them would be drug-free!" In other words, according to this study, FreeWay makes a positive difference in the lives of 19 out of every 100 students taught. FreeWay changes the ratio from 32 drug users per 100 students to 13 users per 100 students.

Focusing only on the 7th and 8th grade students in the survey, 65.8% of the students not served by FreeWay were drug-free in the preceding year. Among non-pledging 7th and 8th grade students in schools which FreeWay did serve, 64.3% remained drug-free. Some of those non-pledging students received FreeWay training; most did not.

The Missouri Baptist College study compared the above statistical results with the 79.2% of the 7th and 8th grade students who had signed FreeWay pledges the preceding year and who were still drug-free 12 months after their initial commitment, when they were 6th and 7th graders.

This 11.5% to 14.9% difference was an unexpected result because the percentage of non-users usually drops dramatically between elementary school (grade 6) and junior high school (grade 7.) This usually expected increase in alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use from grade to grade, according to researchers, is due in large part to the lessening of parental influence and the increasing negative peer pressure among teenage students.

Gender was the only non-significant factor in the study, indicating that it does not matter if one is male or female with regards to the beginning of substance abuse in each grade level.

The most significant factor in reducing the percentage of students who chose not to initiate substance use was the FreeWay pledge card. This card is titled, "I Declare Myself Free!" Students were urged to sign this pledge: "I agree that the most happy and healthful life is one free from the harmful effects of alcohol and other drugs, and I am declaring myself free from alcohol and other drugs so that I can enjoy my life to the fullest! I choose to "Take the FreeWay" . . . free from alcohol and other drugs. I’ll urge my friends to "Take the FreeWay" too."

This study shows that drug use increases as a function of grade level (i.e. it increases from grade to grade), regardless of intervention. However, FreeWay (namely the pledge not to use) significantly slowed the increase in use, but did not reverse it, according to Boren. The study has a 95% level of reliability.

In the executive summary of the study, Boren emphasized these factual results:
  1. The percentage of students who received extended (4-day) FreeWay education, signed a pledge card, and remained drug-free for at least one year is a significantly higher percentage than for those students who did not receive FreeWay instruction or sign a pledge card.
  2. This positive result was true of pledging and non-pledging students within the same school districts, as well as within other "control" school districts throughout the state.

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