The Research Behind our Evidence-Based Programs

Student Leadership Services has synthesized prevention, education and youth development research into an interactive and peer-led program utilizing grass-roots efforts and community partnerships. SLS fills a void in public education requirements in Michigan that involve very little instruction about alcohol, tobacco (vaping) and other drugs (ATOD). Most students receive one credit of Health during their Freshman year of high school. State-wide surveys of youth indicate that binge drinking, marijuana and tobacco (vaping) use typically doubles from 9th to 11th grade and in some counties, ATOD use quadruples during these years. Youth substance use is correlated with disengagement from school, both academically and in extra-curricular activities, and spreading acceptance of ATOD use among their peers.

We are innovative in our student-focused approach that actively engages youth to develop into competent, skilled and caring young people in middle school and high school with support of adult advisors. Our programming and training provides opportunities for bonding (e.g. SLS retreats and state-wide student advisory board), skill development (e.g., planning school-wide assemblies and community service projects) and mentoring (e.g., high school students are invited to become educated about how to teach groups of elementary and middle school students about the risks of ATOD). This methodology is predicated on specific research data on youth development and the principles of social psychology which contend that people tend to act in accordance with roles and expectations (Zimbardo, Bandura, et al.), and the recognition that substance abuse problems do not develop in a vacuum but rather are part of a continuum of problems that may encompass social alienation, poor academic performance, low self-esteem, and hopelessness about the future.

The SLS approach to students is profoundly positive and focused on fun, creating friendships and a sense of belonging for students to develop as healthy youth who are physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and intellectually at their best, while at the same time, learning about the risks of ATOD use. The goal is to delay, deter and eliminate the onset of use of alcohol and other drugs among middle and high school-aged youth. Youth are not passive recipients of this program, on the contrary, they are considered core, collaborative partners.

Validation Study

In 2011 Student Leadership Services received the SAMHSA Service to Science Award. Then, in 2013 we received the SAMHSA Building Evaluation Capacity for Evidence-Based Interventions grant to do an evaluation of our Students Leading Students program. This evaluation was led by Wayne State University and included 23 high schools across Michigan. Findings were reported across seven different outcomes.

Evaluation Findings by Outcome

General Substance Use: Less likely to have used ATOD in the past 30 days and in their lifetime.

Knowledge, Attitudes and Beliefs About Substance Use: More informed about ATOD. More confident to recognize and resist peer pressure.                                      

School Engagement: More likely to have positive feelings about school.  

Social Competence: More comfortable using leadership skills in the classroom and school. More involved in community service.

Disruptive Disorders and Behaviors: Less likely to be the bully and less likely to send inappropriate social media/texts. More likely to demonstrate safe driving behaviors.

Family Cohesion: No statistically significant differences between groups in level of family support.

Victimization and Maltreatment: Less likely to be the bully and less likely to send inappropriate social media.


SLS programs and services are aligned with the goals of national and state health, safety and education organizations and evidence-based practices in youth development, prevention and education.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

We are nationally recognized by SAMHSA and recommended by the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

National Association for Children of Addiction (NACOA)

SLS programs provide experiences that help students develop resilience skills and teaches them how to help themselves and their friends overcome the challenges of living in an addicted family.

National Association of Children of Addiction (NACOA)

NACoA’s mission is to eliminate the adverse impact of alcohol and drug use on children and families.

Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)

Relationships with caring adults who are positive role models can prevent ACEs and improve future outcomes for young people. SLS programs provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where students develop leadership and resilience skills.

Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)

Skill-based learning is an important part of a comprehensive approach to prevent ACEs. Decades of research shows that teaching children and youth skills to handle stress, resolve conflicts, and manage their emotions and behaviors can prevent violence victimization and perpetration, as well as substance misuse.
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Search Institute Developmental Assets

SLS programs develop the external and internal assets that help students become more resilient and reduce high risk behaviors.

Search Institute Developmental Assets

Search institute has identified developmental assets and personal skills that young people need across all aspects of their lives. These are called internal and external assets.
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Whole Child WSCC Model

"The WSCC model engages students as active participants in their learning and health. Establishing healthy behaviors during childhood is easier and more effective than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood".

Whole Child WSCC Model

"The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child, or WSCC model, is CDC’s framework for addressing health in schools. This model is student-centered and emphasizes the role of the community in supporting the school, the connections between health and academic achievement and the importance of evidence-based school policies and practices.
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Michigan Top 10 in 10

Goal 4.1.d: Focus Investment on implementing evidence-based Integrated Student Supports. Expand specific coordinated P-20 partnerships and initiatives with other state, local and private agencies with proven evidence-based practices, with the goal of expanding access to coordinated service programs and family advocacy supports.

Michigan Top 10 in 10

Goal 4: Reduce the impact of high risk factors, including poverty, and provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students to ensure that they have access to quality educational opprotunities.
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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

NHTSA works to eliminate risky behaviors on our nation’s roads. SLS helps teens build the skills needed to make good decisions that keep themselves and their friends safe while driving in a car.

National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration

NHTSA'S mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement.

Michigan Model for Health

SLS programs and services align with Michigan Model program goals and all 5 Michigan Model units. Skills for Health & Life, Social & Emotional Health, Safety, Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs, and Healthy & Responsible Relationships.

Michigan Model for Health

The goal of the Michigan Model is to motivate and assist students to maintain and improve their health, prevent disease, and reduce health-related risk behaviors while creating a partnership between homes, schools, communities and government.
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Michigan Department of Education Social Emotional Learning (MDE-SEL)

SEL is at the heart of SLS programs. When students understand and regulate their emotions, complete goals, take others' perspective, develop healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions they are better equipped to lead safe and healthy lives.

Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

MDE's primary goals as outlined in the state's strategic education plan is to support the healthy, safety and wellness of all students. MDE feels Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a critical way to achieve this goal.

Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS)

SLS Programs align with MDHHS Strategic Plan Goals to Reduce Underage Drinking including: Decrease youth access, improve community/social norms, increase perception of risk, increase prosocial behavior, and increase community concern.

Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS)

MDHHS is a department of the State of Michigan that provides public assistance, child and family welfare services, and oversees health policy and management.

High Scope Educational Research Foundation/ David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality

SLS was evaluated using the Youth Program Quality Assessment and was 'off the charts' the best youth program out of 90 evaluated. SLS programs build safe, supportive, interactive environments that are foundational to youth development.

High Scope Educational Research Foundation/ David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality

The Weikart Center helps youth development leaders to adapt, implement and scale best-in-class, research validated quality improvement systems to advance child and youth development.
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Hart's Ladder of Youth Participation

SLS strongly believes that change happens when youth have high levels of participation and decision-making power. We work with students to build the skills to direct their own activities, and assume shared responsibility with appropriate levels of support.

Hart's Ladder of Participation

Developed by Sociologist Roger Hart for UNICEF in 1997, this groundbreaking work paved the way for rethinking how adults and young people around the world work together.
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