Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program

The purpose of Project REAL (Rural Early Adolescent Learning) was to develop and evaluate a professional development training program to help teachers in rural schools support their students who are at-risk for school adjustment difficulties. The resulting training program, the Supporting Early Adolescents’ Learning and Social Success (SEALS), is a universal intervention model that uses year-long professional development programming to help teachers improve their capacity to create supportive learning environments for early adolescents. Teachers learn evidenced-based approaches to enhance students’ academic engagement, promote students’ use of constructive classroom interpersonal behaviors, and foster students’ involvement in positive social relationships with peers who value and are productively engaged in school.  The SEALS Model builds from three complementary theoretical perspectives pertaining to youth adjustment and adaptation in school during the early adolescent years.  Adapted from the stage-environment fit hypothesis, which centers on the developmental challenges that youth experience as they transition to middle school (Eccles, 1999), teachers learn instructional and classroom management strategies responsive to the needs of struggling youth and that focus on structuring the classroom context in ways that teach early adolescents how to be successful students in their schools (i.e., autonomous, self-directed learners). The second framework, developmental science, focuses on how factors and processes in key domains of development coalesce to contribute to individual functioning, adaptation, and growth (Cairns & Cairns, 1994). The SEALS model recognizes the holistic nature of early adolescent development and coordinates intervention across the academic, behavioral, and social domains of adjustment.  Teachers learn to promote the adjustment of early adolescent learners by fostering their competencies and growth across these three domains in an integrated and synchronized manner.  These two frameworks come together in an ecological intervention framework, which emphasizes intervention strategies intended to organize and structure the environment to foster the development of new skills, opportunities, and social roles that help to sustain productive patterns of adaptation and growth (Cantrell & Cantrell, 2007; Farmer, Farmer, & Brooks, 2010; Hobbs, 1966).  From this perspective, the SEALS model focuses on the daily activities of learning, and helps teachers understand how to structure the context to align with students’ characteristics and developmental needs.

The SEALS professional development program was designed for implementation in schools with limited access to professional development due to limited resources and geographic isolation. The SEALS program is fully manualized and is primarily electronic in format and delivery. Training components include a site visit by intervention staff; teacher participation in a SEALS Summer Institute; teacher completion of on-line modules; and multiple directed consultation sessions (via videoconferencing) with intervention staff. Thus, across the various training components, teachers typically become highly active participants who bring “real world” examples and issues to the training content and, in so doing, readily integrate the SEALS intervention strategies into their daily instructional and classroom management activities. 

Project REAL employed a cluster randomized control trials design to test the efficacy of the SEALS model in rural schools. A total of 18 matched pairs of schools were identified in rural school districts in Appalachian, Far Western, Southwestern, Southeastern, Midwestern, Pacific Northwestern, and Deep South regions of the United States. Within each pair, schools were assigned randomly to receive the SEALS program or to serve as a comparison school. A total of 93 teachers and school personnel participated in the SEALS professional development program. The full Project REAL sample, including the 18 intervention and 18 comparison schools, included a total of 159 teachers and 2453 students as research participants. The intervention impact is assessed to determine: (1) changes in teacher beliefs and practice; (2) changes in key student developmental process variables targeted by the intervention components (e.g., academic engagement, interpersonal behaviors, peer affiliations); and (3) changes in student achievement (i.e., grades, state-level standardized achievement scores).

Rural schools that are interested in the REAL intervention can obtain more information by contacting Kerrylin Lambert (Kerrylin.Lambert@unc.edu).

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program Staff

Dr. Thomas Farmer- Principal Investigator

Dr. Jill Hamm- Co-Principal Investigator

Kerrylin Lambert - Data Manager

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program Research Briefs

Improving Peer Group Culture and Socialization for Academic Success among Rural Early Adolescents

Improving Teachers’ Attunement to Student Peer Groups Benefits Students in Middle School Transition

Social Dynamics, Bullying Involvement, and School Adjustment in Middle School

Summary of Preliminary Research Findings

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program and Affiliated Research Publications

Cadwallader, T., Farmer, T. W., Cairns, B. D., Leung, M.-C., Clemmer, J. T., Gut, D. M., & Reese, L. E. (2002). The social relations of rural African-American early adolescents and proximal impact of the school engagement project. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 239-258. doi:10.1016/S0022-4405(02)00099-7

Dexter, D. D., Hughes, C. A., & Farmer, T. W. (2008). Responsiveness to intervention: A review of field studies and implications for rural special education. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 37, 3-9.

Estell, D. B., Farmer. T. W., & Cairns, B. D. (2007). Bullies and victims in rural African American youth: Individual characteristics and social network placement. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 145-159. doi:10.1002/ab.20176

Estell, D., Farmer, T. W., Cairns, B. D., & Clemmer, J. T. (2003). Self-report weapon possession in school and patterns of early adolescent adjustment in rural African-American youth. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32, 442-452. doi:10.1207/S15374424JCCP3203_12

Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Crowther, A., Akos, P., & Boudah, D. J. (2009). Students with exceptionalities and the peer group context of bullying and victimization in late elementary school. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18, 136-150. doi:10.1007/s10826-008-9214-1

Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Thompson, J. H., Hutchins, B. C., & McDonough, E. M. (2007). Patterns of middle school adjustment and ninth grade adaptation of rural African American youth: Grades and substance use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 477-487. doi:10.1007/s10964-007-9167-5

Faircloth, B. S., & Hamm, J. V. (2005). Sense of belonging among high school students representing four ethnic groups. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 293-309. doi:10.1007/s10964-005-5752-7

Faircloth, B. S., & Hamm, J. V. (2011). The dynamic reality of adolescents' peer relations and sense of belonging. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 57, 48-72. doi:10.1353/mpq.2011.0004

Farmer, T. W. (2000). Social dynamics of aggressive and disruptive behavior in school: Implications for behavior consultation. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 11, 299-322. doi:10.1207/S1532768XJEPC113&4_02

Farmer, T. W. (2007). Studying the individual within the peer context: Are we on target? New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 118, 101-108. doi:10.1002/cd.204

Farmer, T. W., Clemmer, J. T., Leung, M.-C., Goforth, J. B., Thompson, J. H., Keagy, K., & Bouche, S. (2005). Strength-based assessment of rural African-American early adolescents: Characteristics of students in high and low groups on the behavioral and emotional rating scale. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 14, 55-69. doi:10.1007/s10826-005-1113-0

Farmer, T. W., Dadisman, K., Latendresse, S. J., Thompson, J., Irvin, M. J., & Zhang, L. (2006). Educating out and giving back: Adults’ conceptions of successful outcomes of African American high school students from impoverished rural communities. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(10), 1-12.

Farmer, T. W., Estell, D. B., Bishop, J. L., O'Neal, K., & Cairns, B. D. (2003). Rejected bullies or popular leaders? The social relations of aggressive subtypes of rural African-American early adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 39, 992-1004. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.39.6.992

Farmer, T. W., Estell, D. B., Hall, C. M., Pearl, R., Van Acker, R., & Rodkin, P. C. (2008). Interpersonal competence configurations, behavior problems, and social adjustment in preadolescence. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 16, 195-212. doi:10.1177/1063426608320355

Farmer, T. W., Farmer, E. M. Z., & Brooks, D. (2010). Recasting the ecological and developmental roots of intervention for students with emotional and behavioral problems: The promise of strength-based perspectives. Exceptionality, 18, 53-57. doi:10.1080/09362831003673051

Farmer, T. W., Farmer, E. M. Z., Estell, D. & Hutchins, B. C. (2007). The developmental dynamics of aggression and the prevention of school violence. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 15, 197-208. doi:10.1177/10634266070150040201

Farmer, T. W., Goforth, J. B., Hives, J., Aaron, A., Hunter, F. & Sgammato, A. (2006). Competence enhancement behavior management. Preventing School Failure, 50, 39-44. doi:10.3200/PSFL.50.3.39-44

Farmer, T. W., Hall, C. M., Petrin, R. A., Hamm, J. V., & Dadisman, K. (2010). Evaluating the impact of a multicomponent intervention model on teachers’ awareness of social networks at the beginning of middle school in rural communities. School Psychology Quarterly, 25, 94-106. doi:10.1037/a0020147

Farmer, T. W., Hamm, J. V., Hall, C. M., Murray, R. A., Lee, D., Sutherland, K. S., & Lane, K. L. (2011). Conceptual foundations and components of a contextual intervention to promote student engagement during early adolescence: The SEALS model. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Farmer, T. W., Hamm, J. V., Lee, D., Hall, C. M., & Murray, R. A. (2011). Directed
consultation: A framework for supporting the implementation of evidence-based interventions in real world practice for at-risk students. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Farmer, T. W., Hamm, J. V., Leung, M.-C., Lambert, K., & Gravelle, M. (2011). Early adolescent peer ecologies in rural communities: Bullying in schools that do and do not have a transition during the middle grades. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1106-1117. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9684-0

Farmer, T. W., Hamm, J. V., Petrin, R. A., Robertson, D. R., Murray, R. A., Meece, J., & Brooks, D. S. (2010). Supporting early adolescent learning and social strengths: Promoting productive contexts for students at-risk for EBD during the transition to middle school. Exceptionality, 18, 94-106. doi:10.1080/09362831003673192

Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Leung, M.-C., Hall, C. M., Hutchins, B. C., & McDonough, E. (2009). Social preference, social prominence, and peer group membership in late elementary school: Homophilic concentration and peer affiliation configurations. Social Psychology of Education, 13, 271-293.

Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Sgammato, A. N., Dadisman, K., & Thompson, J. H. (2009). Interpersonal competence configurations in rural Appalachian fifth graders: Academic achievement and associated adjustment factors. Elementary School Journal, 109, 301-321. doi:10.1086/592309

Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Thompson, J. H., Hutchins, B. C., & Leung, M.-C. (2006). School adjustment and the academic success of rural African American early adolescents in the Deep South. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(3), 1-14.

Farmer, T. W., Leung, M-C., Keagy, K., Boudah, D. J., Akos, P., McDonough, E., & Hall, C. M. (2009). Social preference choices in late elementary school: Within and across group nominations. Psychology in the Schools, 46, 362-374. doi:10.1002/pits.20381

Farmer, T. W., Lines, M. M., & Hamm, J. V. (2011). Revealing the invisible hand: The role of teachers in children’s peer experiences (Introduction to the special issue). Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32, 247-256. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2011.04.006

Farmer, T. W., Petrin, R., Brooks, D. S., Hamm, J. V., Lambert, K., & Gravelle, M. (2011). Bullying involvement and the school adjustment of rural students with and without disabilities. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. doi:10.1177/1063426610392039

Farmer, T. W., Price, L., O’Neal, K. K., Leung, M.-C., Goforth, J. B., Cairns, B. D. & Reese, L. E. (2004). Exploring risk in African-American youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 33, 51-59. doi:10.1023/B:AJCP.0000014318.16652.30

Farmer, T. W., Vernon-Feagans, L., & Hannum, W. H. (2008). Educational issues in diverse rural communities: The research agenda of the National Research Center on Rural Education Support (NRCRES Monograph No. 1). Journal of Research in Rural Education. Chapel Hill, NC: National Research Center on Rural Education Support.

Farmer, T. W. & Xie, H. L. (2007). Aggression and school social dynamics: The good, the bad, and the ordinary. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 461-478. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2007.06.008

Farmer, T. W., Xie, H. L., Cairns, B. D., & Hutchins, B. C. (2007). Social synchrony, peer networks, and aggression in school. In P. H. Hawley, T. D. Little, & P. C. Rodkin (Eds.), Aggression and adaptation: The bright side to bad behavior (pp. 209-233). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gut, D. M., Farmer, T. W., Bishop, J. L., Hives, J., Aaron, A., & Jackson, F. (2004). The school engagement project: The academic engagement enhancement component. Preventing School Failure, 48, 4-9. doi:10.3200/PSFL.48.2.4-9

Hamm, J. V., & Faircloth, B. S. (2005). Peer context of mathematics classroom belonging in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25, 345-366. doi:10.1177/0272431605276932

Hamm, J. V., & Faircloth, B. S. (2005). The role of adolescents' close friendships in school belonging. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 107, 61-78. doi:10.1002/cd.121

Hamm, J. V., Farmer, T. W., Agger, C., & Lambert, K. (2011). Social and academic benefits of sustained membership in developmentally promotive peer groups for African American boys. (as part of a series of manuscripts, Boys of Color Collaborative, Oscar Barbarin, Organizer).

Hamm, J. V., Farmer, T. W., Dadisman, K., Gravelle, M., & Murray, R. A. (2011). Teachers’ attunement to students’ peer group affiliations as a source of improved student experiences of the school social-affective context following the middle school transition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32, 267-277. doi:10.1016/jappdev.2010.06.003

Hamm, J. V., Farmer, T. W., Lambert, K., & Gravelle, M. (2011). Enhancing peer cultures of academic effort and achievement in early adolescence: Promotive effects of the SEALS intervention. Manuscript under review.

Hamm, J. V., Farmer, T. W., Robertson, D. R., Dadisman, K., Murray, A. R., Meece, J. L., & Song, S. Y. (2010). Effects of a developmentally-based intervention with teachers, on Native American and White early adolescents in rural schools. Journal of Experimental Education, 78, 343-377. doi:10.1080/00220970903548038

Hamm, J. V., Hoffman, A., & Farmer, T. W. (in press). Peer cultures of academic success in adolescence: Why they matter and what teachers can do to promote them. To appear in A. Ryan & G. Ladd (Eds.), Peer relationships and adjustment at school. New York, NY: Information Age Publishing.

Hamm, J. V., Schmid, L., Farmer, T. W., & Locke, B. (2011). The influences of descriptive and injunctive norms on rural American early adolescents’ academic adjustment. Journal of Early Adolescence, 31, 41-73. doi:10.1177/0272431610384486

Hamm, J. V., & Zhang, L. (2010). The schooling context of adolescents' peer relations. In J. Meece & J. Eccles (Eds.), The handbook of schooling effects on development (pp. 518-554). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sutherland, K. S., Carter, E., Farmer, T. W., Hoover, H., & Kostewicz, D. (2007). Re-examination of effective classroom management with focus on learners with or at-risk for emotional/behavioral disorders. Monograph published by the Division of the Council for Children with Behavior Disorders, Reston, VA.

Sutherland, K. S., & Farmer, T. W. (2007). Classroom contexts and problem behavior. In G. D. Sideridis & T. A. Citro, T. A. Best practices in learning disabilities: Bridging the gap between research and practice. Boston, MA: Learning Disabilities Worldwide.

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program Presentations

Farmer, T. W. (2005, November). The Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program.
Presentation made at the Research Symposium sponsored by the National Rural Education Association, Tucson, AZ.

Murray, A. (2006, October). Project REAL (Rural Early Adolescent Learning): Social and academic interventions for rural schools. Presentation made at the National Rural Education Association's Convention, Kansas City, MO.

Hamm, J. V. (2007, June). Implementation and evaluation of the Rural Early Adolescent Learning Project (REAL): Commonalities in diverse educational settings. Presentation made at the Institute for Education Sciences Research Conference, Washington, DC.

Brooks, D., Farmer, T. W., Mason, L., Sutherland, K., & Taft, R. (2007, October) Creating instructionally effective classrooms contexts for middle school students with EBD. Symposium presented at the Council on Children with Behavioral Disorders International Conference, Dallas, TX.

Farmer, T. W., Hoover, T., & Kostewicz, D. (2007, October). Re-examination of effective classroom management: Middle school. Symposium presented at the Council on Children with Behavioral Disorders International Conference, Dallas, TX.

Hamm, J. V. (2008, June). Project REAL: Intervention effects on social, behavioral, and academic adjustment in rural K-12 schools. Poster session presentation at the Insitute for Education Sciences Research Conference, Washington, DC.

Hamm, J. V., & Dadisman, K. (2008, October). Implementation and evaluation of the Rural Early Adolescent Learning Project (REAL): Effects on students in K-12 Northern Plains schools. Presentation made at the National Rural Education Association's Research Symposium, San Antonio, TX.

Murray, A. (2009, January). Classroom social dynamics in remote rural schools: A professional development program promoting positive peer interactions through social dynamics intervention. Presentation made at the Hawaii International Conference on Education, Honolulu, HI.

Murray, A. (2009, March). Implementation and evaluation of Project REAL: Rural Early Adolescent Learning. Presentation made at the American Council on Rural Special Education Conference, Denver, CO.

Hamm, J.V. & Farmer, T. W. (2011, March). Enhancing the effects of teacher attunement to student peer group affiliations on the school social-affective context: Promotive effects of the SEALS intervention. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, Washington, D.C.

Irvin, M. J. (2011, March). The impact of Project REAL on students’ peer context. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, Washington, D.C.

Petrin, R. A. (2011, March). The impact of Project REAL on the adjustment of students in distinct risk configurations: Considerations for the development of selected and indicated interventions. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, Washington, D.C.

Hamm, J. V. & Farmer, T. W. (2011, April). Improving the social-affective context of achievement in rural schools: The influence of the SEALS program. Paper presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, QC.

Irvin, M .J., Petrin, R. A., Farmer, T. W., & Hamm, J. V. (2011, April). Effects of an intervention to promote productive school contexts for early adolescents: Academic outcomes and peer relations. Paper presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, QC.

Hamm, J. V. (2011, May). Linking social dynamics, academic engagement, and behavior management: Findings from the SEALS program. Presentation made at the TIES (Training Interdisciplinary Education Scientists) Institute, University Park, PA.

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program Measures

Measure Descriptions and References

Selected Student Measures

Selected Teacher Measures

Please use proper citation for measures (see Measure Descriptions and References document).