What We Do > Learning Opportunities > StrongStart Program

StrongStart Program

We teach teens how to decide, not what to decide, empowering teens to make better decisions that lead to better lives.

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DEF is recruiting partner schools for StrongStart, an orientation program for incoming high school 9th graders. While often done in the summer, this active, 5-day camp-like experience focuses on building community connections, self-awareness, and leadership through Decision Skills training. Lessons and activities can also be integraed throughout the year.

What schools have found:

  • Students like the program.

  • Teachers like the program.

  • Data indicates that program participants achieved increases in both GPA and completed course credits.

  • 9th grade year can set the path for a student's high school experience and the program helps create a successful path.

Program Benefits:

  • Freshmen establish a strong and more confident foundation for high school.

  • Students learn self-efficacy and self-moderated behavior

  • Students are encouraged to engage in school academic and social activities

  • Students learn fundamental life skills to take beyond high school

  • Students learn processes to handle their new empowerment in new small, medium, and large responsibilities

  • Student chances for success are improved, demonstrated by a statistically significant rise in GPA and credits completed

  • Students add depth to college and career readiness with Decision Skills.

  • Rising seniors have an opportunity to act as leaders to their younger peers.

How it works:

  • We train teachers in our content and how to deliver the program.

  • We provide all program curriculum and materials.

  • We provide best practices for recruiting students.

  • We provide ongoing support.


Here's a peek at the curriculum.

New partner schools receive a $5000 financial grant to pay for the cost of delivering the program.


Data shows that 9th graders who stay on track have a higher graduation rate than their off-track peers. DEF's StrongStart program transitions students from middle school to high school, giving them skills and tools for empowerment and self-efficacy in decision-making.

Our annual StrongStart program evaluations show students:

  • Have fun, feel better prepared for high school, and recommend the program to other freshmen.

Preliminary analysis of outcomes indicates StrongStart may increase:

  • GPA on the order of 0.3 (on a 4.0 scale)

  • Total freshman credits by 0.4 (0.5 is a semester class)

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