Examining School Connectedness and Educational Aspirations as Protective Factors for Alcohol Use among Adolescents in Uruguay

Stephanie Ayers, Flavio F. Marsiglia, Stephen S. Kulis, Elizabeth Kiehne, David Alarcón, Carlos Libisch

In Uruguay, alcohol use is pervasive among adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 (past year use: ~ 60%, past month use: ~ 40%). Differences in rates of alcohol use exist among many subgroups of adolescents. This study focuses on the differences found by school type serving low SES communities. Students who attend privately managed, free-access schools have lower rates of alcohol use compared to students enrolled in public schools in the same communities. This study seeks to explore the factors that underlie differences in alcohol use between these two types of schools, using school connectedness and educational aspirations as explanatory variables.

Longitudinal data came from a pilot study of an adolescent substance use prevention intervention in Uruguay. Wave 1 surveys were administered before the beginning of the substance use prevention intervention (week 1) with Wave 2 surveys occurring after the completion of the program (week 10). Participants (N=353; Mage=12, SD=.8; Female=50%) come from four schools- two private and two public with one from each serving as a control and the other as the experimental condition. Schools were located in the poorest neighborhood in Montevideo. Using a mediation path analytic model in Mplus, Wave 1 school connectedness and educational aspirations were tested as possible explanatory mechanisms linking school type (i.e., private v. public) with Wave 2 alcohol use indicators (30-day frequency and 30-d ay heavy episodic drinking).

The goodness-of-fit statistics indicated good global model fit (χ2(4)=4.0, p=.41; CFI=1.0; RMSEA=.00). Relative to public school students, private school students had higher educational aspirations (β=.15, p<.01) and greater school connectedness (β=.33, p<.001). In turn, school connectedness was associated with a lower frequency of alcohol use (β=-.15, p<.05) and less heavy episodic drinking (β=-.17, p< .01). The relationship between educational aspirations and alcohol frequency and heavy episodic drinking was statistically nonsignificant. Moderation effects revealed that private school attendance was related to less frequency of alcohol use (β=-.05, p<.05) and less heavy episodic drinking (β=-.06, p<.05) through school connectedness.

The promotion of school connectedness among Uruguayan youth is critical to reducing the high rate of alcohol use. School connectedness may be a critically important protective factor against substance use in Uruguay where roughly 1 in 4 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school. This highlights that, among other protective factors of alcohol use on young people, school connectedness could be promoted by policies and future research supporting school-based interventions both on public and private schools.

This abstract was submitted to the 2017 Society for Prevention Research Annual Meeting.

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