Creating Supportive Contexts for Early Adolescents during the First Year of Middle School: Impact of a Developmentally Responsive Multi-Component Intervention

  • Molly DawesEmail author
  • Thomas Farmer
  • Jill Hamm
  • David Lee
  • Kate Norwalk
  • Brittany Sterrett
  • Kerrylin Lambert
Empirical Research


The transition to middle school is recognized as a period of increased risk for students’ adjustment difficulties across the academic, behavioral, and social domains, underscoring the need for developmentally responsive interventions that address these potential vulnerabilities. This study examined the impact of a multi-component intervention on students’ perceived adjustment during the first year of middle school using a cluster randomized controlled trial design. A total of 24 metropolitan schools (12 intervention), 220 teachers (122 intervention), and 2925 students (1537 intervention) participated. Teachers in intervention schools received training and consultation in the Behavioral, Academic, and Social Engagement (BASE) classroom management model. Significant intervention effects, moderated by students’ gender, race/ethnicity, and economic status, were found for self-reported social anxiety, defiance, willingness to protect peers being bullied, and emotional problems. The results suggest that teachers trained in the BASE model were better able to create supportive classroom contexts during the middle school transition which promoted positive adjustment for particular students. This study stresses the importance of using developmentally appropriate strategies across correlated domains to reduce adjustment difficulties during the transition to middle school.


Early adolescence School-based intervention Middle schoolers Socio-emotional adjustment Behavioral adjustment Classroom management 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the students, teachers, and schools who participated in this study. We also thank the members of the research team involved in data collection and processing. This research was supported by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (R305A120812). The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors’ and do not represent the granting agency.

Authors’ Contributions

M.D. participated in study conception, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; T.F. conceived of the study, participated in the design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript; J.H. conceived of the study, participated in the design and coordination, advised on the methodology and statistical analyses, and helped draft the manuscript; D.L. conceived of the study, participated in the design and coordination, and advised on the manuscript; K.N. participated in the study design and coordination and helped draft the manuscript; B.S. assisted in study conception and helped draft the manuscript; K.L. coordinated data processing, assisted with statistical analyses, and helped draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was supported in part by grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences (R305A120812) awarded to Thomas W. Farmer, Jill V. Hamm, and David Lee (PIs). The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the granting agency.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in the current study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/ or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained for all participants in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of EducationUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of PittsburgPittsburgUSA
  3. 3.School of EducationThe University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.College of EducationThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  6. 6.School of EducationVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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