Methods: Over 2,000 middle school students in a low income, violent, ethnically/racially diverse county in the Southeast participated in the PA program over three years. Youth were tracked as they entered high school, thus the year 4 sample was comprised of youth in Grades 6 through 11. Following multiple imputation and propensity score analysis, four two-level hierarchical linear models were run using each of the outcome measures (i.e., self-esteem, school hassles, aggression, and internalizing symptoms) as dependent variables. Models were estimated using three techniques: inverse probability of treatment weighting average treatment effect (IPTW-ATE), inverse probability of treatment weighting average treatment effect for the treated (IPTW-ATT), and 1-to-1 nearest-neighbor within caliper matching.
Results: Results indicated that the PA program generated statistically significant beneficial effects for youth from the intervention county in terms of self-esteem (1.8% higher than that of the control youth, p<.05) and school hassles (3.9% lower than that of the control youth, p<.001). While results indicated beneficial effects for intervention youth on aggression, the finding was not statistically significant. The finding for internalizing symptoms revealed a detrimental effect: the youth from the intervention county had higher internalizing scores than those from the intervention county (2.6% higher than that of the control youth, p<.001).
Conclusions/Implications: To date, the majority of PA research has been conducted in urban areas and the current research adds to the existing PA research. Overall, the current study indicates that PA has some positive results when implemented in a low-income, diverse, violent, rural community. At risk youth in the current rural community benefited from increased self-esteem and decreased school hassles, which might have ultimately led to more positive school experiences and improved academic functioning. However, PA was unable to improve the internalizing symptoms of intervention youth, suggesting that changes might be needed in the PA program if mental health improvement is desired.