4th R Curriculum: Reducing Youth Risk Behaviors

Pete Hoepfner

AASB Board President

Greetings school board members! Spring is just around the corner (maybe I am jumping the gun)!

This month’s article is in relation to bringing prevention based education to our students. Prevention is such an integral part of educating children. From internet safety to youth risk taking behaviors, educating our youth on the associated hazards will give them an awareness of issues confronting them. The following is a brief introduction to the Fourth R Program and its benefits to school districts.

This information is very pertinent, as the Fourth R Healthy Relationships Curriculum (grades 7-9) and the Healthy Relationships Plus Curriculum (ages 12-18) have been recommended by the Alaska Safe Children’s Act Task Force as model curriculum for dating violence and abuse prevention (Bree’s Law). The Alaska Safe Children’s Act (Erin’s and Bree’s Law) goes into effect June 30, 2017.  Training and materials are offered by the Department of Education & Early Development and the Division of Public Health at no cost. Online training is also available.

The Fourth R Program (R = Relationships) is a comprehensive school-based program designed to reduce violence, substance use, and other youth risk behaviors. The program is based on the premise that relationship skills are as important to learn in school as the other three R’s (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic). The program focuses on building healthy relationships and decision-making skills through interactive teaching methods such as role play. The Fourth R lessons provide a variety of discussion opportunities to process issues with peers and the teacher, as well as opportunities to examine individual beliefs and boundaries.

The Fourth R curriculum was developed in Canada and has been adapted for use in Alaska. The core program contains 21 lessons in three units designed to be implemented by trained school teachers in 7-9th grade health and physical education classes. Age-appropriate lessons focus on important subjects such as: the impact of bullying and harassment, developing skills for healthy relationships, building skills to avoid pressure to use substances, and positive coping strategies.

The Fourth R is an evidence-based program and is listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices among others.

International evaluation has found the Fourth R program effective in reducing physical dating violence among boys; reducing acts of violence towards peers; increasing knowledge and awareness of dating violence, substance use and other risky behaviors; and increasing students’ use of communication skills.

The Fourth R emphasizes the five basic competencies of social and emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

There is growing evidence that social and emotional learning programs—such as the Fourth R—are associated with improved academic outcomes including: decreased absenteeism, suspensions and behavioral problems; and increases in grade point averages, standardized test scores and commitment to school.


  • Absenteeism
  • Suspensions
  • Discipline referrals
  • Bullying
  • Violence
  • Problem behaviors


  • Standardized test scores
  • Goal-setting
  • Commitment to school
  • Problem-solving
  • Teacher-related academic performance
  • Time-management
  • Grades
  • On-task learning behavior
  • Grade point averages

The Fourth R provides lessons that meet the Skills for a Healthy Life content standards developed by the State of Alaska, Department of Education & Early Development.

The Fourth R program also aligns with the performance indicators of all eight of the U.S. National Health Education Standards for grades 9-12.

  • Complete curriculum kits: teacher-friendly lessons, learning objectives and expectations, and teaching/learning activities.
  • A variety of teaching materials (binder, DVDs, CDs and laminates).
  • Curriculum training and booster sessions.
  • Ongoing program support and technical assistance to help teachers and students succeed.
  • Support and assistance from community partners.
  • Opportunities to become a master trainer.

“[The Fourth R] has taught me to know what I deserve in a relationship and about my rights to feel safe and secure. This knowledge has helped me make changes in my personal life for the better. I was able to apply what I learned, and I am happier and safer now that I have done so.”

— Alaska Student

The Department of Education & Early Development, along with partners provide training and materials to interested school districts.

Links to more info on the Fourth R programs:

Fourth R for Healthy Relationships

Healthy Relationships Plus