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The Stanford Center on Adolescence supports several initiatives for positive youth development in the schools and the everyday lives of adolescents. Positive youth development is a framework for conceiving of youth as individuals with distinct hopes, concerns, and experiences; moral agents with initiative and purpose; and resources for the communities in which they live. Our current efforts focus on fostering purpose in schools and understanding thriving in young people.

Fostering Purpose in Schools

The Center has partnered with The Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA) to observe and record the process of fostering youth purpose in school settings.

QISA is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and implementing the conditions that foster student aspirations in schools and learning communities. QISA stood out among programs the Center reviewed for its potential to examine "best practices" in the promotion of youth purpose. QISA's definition of aspirations is in close alignment with the Center on Adolescence definition of purpose. Aspirations involve "the ability to dream and set goals for the future while being inspired in the present to reach those goals."

Over the course of two years, QISA and the Center will focus on three schools per year where QISA has established relationships. During the school year 2007-2008, QISA will provide access to three of its school sites: one in Philipsburg, Montana, one in Laconia, New Hampshire, and one in Westfield, Massachusetts.

QISA will develop, initiate and direct the process of instilling the notion of purpose into the school communities through relevant workshops, materials, web materials, seminars, meetings and classroom interactions. Center staff members will observe and document how these fostering processes occur in the interactions among administrators, faculty, staff, students and parents.

The partnership aims to provide a summary of strategies used, accomplishments made, difficulties experienced, changes made, and lessons learned as a foundation for continuing research. Another aim is to support a web-based resource center hosted by QISA that will provide teachers throughout the country an opportunity to use and to share activities that promote purpose in students.

Thriving Indicators Project

The Center has collaborated with the Thrive Foundation for Youth for more than ten years on the Thriving Indicators Project to better understand the construct of thriving, or optimal development, in youth. The Thrive Foundation for Youth is a small, family-run foundation that supports and engages in both research and practice efforts for improving the lives and developmental pathways of young people.

What does thriving mean? How can we see it in today's youth? The Center, working with positive youth development scholars around the country, aims to understand the key competencies and developmental assets associated with thriving, develop clear and measurable indicators for thriving, and ascertain the positive roles of family, school, communities, and other institutions in thriving. While most positive youth development scholars agree that thriving entails some degree of overall well-being, at its core, thriving is a developmental concept that requires a young person to not only appear to be doing well in the present, but to also be on a pathway to a hopeful future. Furthermore, thriving involves contribution to the common good (such as volunteering, tutoring, etc.) and can be affected by a young person's environment.

Center researchers participate in semiannual meetings with other thrive-oriented scholars; consult on the Thrive Foundation's interactive, internet-based tool called uthrive™ designed to assess and promote thriving in young people; and are conducting a thorough review of the academic literature on thriving and positive youth development.