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STARS Profiled By Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)


Article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 newsletter of the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET). 

What you are about to read is the story of a very unique and valuable service organization for youth. Though you will read about its involvement mostly in Middle Tennessee, the contact information at the end of the article will put you in touch with those who can help you reach local organizations that provide services in your area. Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

STARS CEO Rodger Dinwiddie shares with PET the resources of STARS.
STARS CEO Rodger Dinwiddie shares with PET the resources of STARS.

In 1980, a group of educators and individuals from Chattanooga, Tennessee began a program to address the epidemic of substance abuse which was devastating our young people and their families. The initial program was called Project 714. Four years after beginning in Chattanooga, the program was brought to Nashville. These early days saw the development of what would become and remains today, a student assistance program (SAP). SAP is based on the Employee Assistance Model (EAP) utilized in businesses to assist employees with issues impacting their ability to be productive in the workplace.

The early days of SAP focused primarily on substance abuse prevention and intervention. In 1988, the program was renamed STARS, Students Taking A right Stand and the SAP design shifted to address a broader array of issues that impact young people’s ability to be successful in school. This shift paved the way for much of the success that STARS has experienced these last 26 years. With these changes STARS has remained committed to providing evidence-based strategies to reduce barriers to student learning. Essentially, any issue that impacts a student’s success, such as violence, bullying, struggles with conflict and anger management, substance abuse in the home, over exposure to substance abuse and violence in the community, and struggles with depression are addressed through the SAP model.

The core strategies that have made STARS programs successful include individual and small group counseling, training of SAP Team members in the school, and the support of a STARS SAP Specialist, a contracted employee of STARS, working alongside the team in the building.

STARS has grown in many ways, not the least of which has been through the acquisition and merger of several programs in the community. The Student Assistance Program (SAP) of the Alcohol and Drug Council of Middle Tennessee, previously known as Youth Alive and Free, was acquired in 2006. In addition, the unique live puppetry prevention program, Kids on the Block, also merged with STARS to create an organization that provides a full spectrum of programs for students, kindergarten through twelfth grades, throughout Middle Tennessee.

In December 2009 STARS relocated its headquarters to the Youth Opportunity Center. This remarkable and revolutionary facility was created by a vision that began in 2006. STARS, along with Oasis Center, had a dream both simple and straightforward: bring a handful of organizations together to share space and integrate services believing that the synergy created will close the opportunity gap that exists for youth in our community.

STARS and Oasis Center were awarded the Frist Foundation’s INNOVATION IN ACTION AWARD by the Center for Nonprofit Management in 2009 for this vision and commitment to young people. Along with this, CEOs, Rodger Dinwiddie, STARS, and Hal Cato, Oasis Center, were named co-Nashvillians of the Year by the Nashville Scene for their leadership and commitment.

Also in 2009, STARS formalized a strategic partnership with Hazelden Publishing to serve as their official distribution site for all evidence-based prevention materials purchased in the State of Tennessee.

In July 2011, STARS strategically adopted three programs of the former Alcohol & Drug Council of Middle Tennessee. These programs are Youth Overcoming Drug Abuse (YODA), Service for Students Who Are Deaf of Hard of Hearing, and Recovery Support Services. STARS became a licensed intensive outpatient treatment facility for adolescents and young adults ages 15-22.

In May of 2012, the Student Assistance Program of STARS Nashville was recognized by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practice (NREPP) as one of three evidence-based practices to address intervention services for youth ages 6 to 17. This remarkable accomplishment is the result of over 18-years of research, service delivery and over 1 million young people and families served.

Our Student Assistance Program received one of the highest scores for fidelity and effectiveness to promote positive change. Most especially in the outcome areas of:

  • Substance Use & Abuse
  • Attitudes Towards Drugs
  • School Values
  • Social Attitudes & Social Bonding
  • Rebellious & Violent Attitudes

These outcome areas remain at the very core of the work being done through STARS today! Since 1984, STARS has successfully served schools and communities by providing prevention, and intervention programs addressing bullying, substance abuse, violence, and social and emotional barriers to success. And now STARS is able to provide intensive outpatient treatment for those most in need of recovery from addiction. STARS services continue to produce consistent outcomes to include increased school attendance and grades, increased youth attachment to school and community, increased individual resilience, and reduced suspensions, expulsions, bullying, violence, delinquency and alcohol and other drug use.

In addition to these services STARS is also the leader in providing bullying prevention and intervention training for schools in Tennessee. In partnership with the Department of Education, Clemson University and Hazelden, Publishing, STARS has trained over 100 individuals across the state to implement the most researched bullying prevention program in the world, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP). To date over 250 schools have been trained and have implemented the OBPP. An outgrowth of our work in bullying prevention has resulted in the development of the Move2Stand program a powerful youth development training process to challenge young people to be effective leaders and pro-social “upstanders” in their schools.

In November 2012, STARS was selected to serve as co-lead agency with Vanderbilt University, by the Tennessee Department of Education for the Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) Project. The overall mission of S3 project is to insure safe and supportive learning environments, thereby increasing academic success for all students.

So, what does all this mean? Today STARS SAP is a nationally scientifically recognized evidence-based practice that can be implemented in a variety of settings. Through all its programs STARS helps school personnel help their students achieve success in all areas of school life … from academics to social emotional competencies. The vision of STARS is to provide supports to help our young people embrace their full potential.

For information about STARS, please visit the website at or contact them at 615-279-0058.