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Project Health: evaluation of a project‐based health education program

Kaija L. Zusevics (Institute for Health and Society, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Melissa A. Lemke (Center for Urban Population Health, University of Wisconsin‐Madison, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Amy E. Harley (School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin‐Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Paul Florsheim (School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin‐Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA and Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin‐Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 12 April 2013




Milwaukee has very high rates of risky sexual behavior and low rates of academic achievement among adolescents. Milwaukee school representatives partnered with researchers to create and implement an innovative project‐based learning (PBL) high school health curriculum to engage students in school. This health education program, Project Health (PH), aimed to engage Milwaukee Public Schools high school students, by PBL, into the urban health classroom. The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of the curriculum on student engagement and document the process of implementing this program, in order to identify strengths, weaknesses and areas of needed improvement.


Student engagement was measured with an 18‐item scale at three time points in intervention and control schools. Attendance data were collected by tracking the number of days students were absent from school the semester the curriculum was implemented. Analysis of covariance was used to test whether students in PH classes were more engaged and if they had fewer absences than students in the control classes. The process evaluation included interviews with teachers, focus groups with high school students, and focus groups with teaching assistants. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis to extract key themes and categories across all data.


Students in the intervention health class were significantly less absent from school than control students. However, they were not more engaged than their peers in control schools as measured by a student engagement scale. Various components of the PBL teaching approach used in the Project Health high school curriculum were viewed as positive by health educators, students, and teaching assistants. Results indicate that PBL used in health education may increase school attendance.


This study was original in that it documented how a novel health education program that incorporated PBL can positively impact urban students’ school attendance. It also highlighted the process of implementing this program from the vantage point of students, assistants, and health education.



Zusevics, K.L., Lemke, M.A., Harley, A.E. and Florsheim, P. (2013), "Project Health: evaluation of a project‐based health education program", Health Education, Vol. 113 No. 3, pp. 232-253.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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