Studying Youth Character Development

Do programs aimed at helping youth develop character really work? The John Templeton Foundation recently awarded Family and Child Studies professors Jennifer Brown Urban and Miriam Linver two sizable grants to help them answer that question. The team has received a three-year Templeton Foundation award of more than $1.7 million — the largest multiyear grant received at Montclair State in fiscal year 2015 — to continue the work begun by their earlier pilot study of Scotland’s Inspire>Aspire teen development program.

“Pilot study results have helped us refine the program and its delivery,” Urban says. “One of the encouraging findings was that Inspire>Aspire is most effective when teachers are able to incorporate the program into the broader curriculum.”

Data collection on the new, larger- scale outcome evaluation project, Inspiring Youth Purpose through Reflection on the Laws of Life, will begin in fall 2016. The team will survey approximately 900 students and will interview their teachers and a subset of students across Scotland as part of this longitudinal study.

Photo of children with hands raised.

The professors began work in February on the Partnerships for Advancing Character Program Evaluation (PACE), which is funded by a nearly $1.3 million Templeton award. “This exciting new project will provide an opportunity to bring our Evolutionary Evaluation approach to a much larger group of character development programs and evaluators,” Urban explains.

An innovative approach to evaluation capacity building, PACE provides unique professional development opportunities for both youth character development program staff and evaluators. 

“The PACE project is designed to promote high-quality program evaluation that’s critical for obtaining funding, improving program quality and, ultimately, increasing a program’s positive impact on youth,” says Urban.