America’s children and youth spend a large portion of their daily lives in schools, and funding for the education system consumed $1.15 trillion nationwide during the 2011–2012 school year, according to the Department of Education. Schools are much more than places to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. In today’s world, schools provide nutrition to lower-income children, may serve as a haven for students who have difficult home environments, and can have a positive influence on character development among children and youth. Additionally, research has demonstrated that people with more education are at lower risk for various problems including poor health and increased alcohol use disorders in adulthood. To that end, many government programs have focused on schools as venues for numerous types of interventions such as substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, disease prevention, and health improvement, and on research to better understand the barriers to educational success.
PIRE’s research in the education arena is cross-cutting and influential. PIRE scientists develop and evaluate tobacco, drug, alcohol, and violence prevention programs carried out in schools and colleges; research and evaluate character education and academic improvement initiatives; and design and conduct evaluations of various teacher preparation programs. We work at the federal, state, and local levels helping schools implement grant programs such as SAMHSA’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students and evaluating programs to assess their effectiveness so that the most successful ones can be expanded. Currently, for example, PIRE is the evaluator for the California Community Colleges Student Mental Health Program as it seeks to build the mental health capacity across California’s 112 community colleges, the largest such system in the United States. In addition, we are working with NASA to evaluate STEM Program grant initiatives to attract and retain students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.