Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

YESS Institute

The YESS Institute is a comprehensive, wrap-around student engagement and peer-mentoring program serving approximately 200 9th and 10th grade students in North and West High School who are at risk for dropping out of, or failing, school. YESS is part of each targeted school’s integrated attendance and engagement policy to reach those students demonstrating serious attendance issues but who may still be successful within a traditional school framework. The program builds peer-mentoring relationships that promote healthy lifestyles and reduce risk factors at the individual, peer, and school levels by educating students on the adverse outcomes of substance abuse and dropping out of, or failing, high school.

A strong relationship between YESS and school staff is crucial to the full integration and success of the YESS Institute. Mentors are 11th and 12th grade students who are trained using YESS’s Road to Success leadership curriculum, which focuses on developing self-awareness as role models, understanding influence on mentees, strengthening successful relationship-building skills, addressing boundaries, building trust, and developing self-regulation skills. Mentor/mentee pairs are matched by a shared “cultural zip code,” similar interests or aspirations, personality type, and overlap between the types of challenges each mentee faces and the challenges mentors have overcome.

The YESS Institute is a formal class with five total hours of mentor and mentee contact per week throughout the school year. Each school focuses at least one session every week on academic tutoring and one using the EmoSmart Leadership™ social-emotional growth curriculum. Other content covered in YESS classes include:

  • Setting social-emotional intelligence goals
  • Assessing internal and external obstacles (e.g., risk factors) to obtaining goals
  • Learning positive choice-making skills when confronted with such obstacles
  • Assessing assets and protective factors
  • Academic skill-building
  • Reaching milestones and celebrating successes
  • Advancing others through community service

With funding from SAMHSA’s FY2014 Subcontracts to Build Evaluation Capacity for Evidence-Based Interventions, the YESS Institute will enhance the evaluation of its peer-mentoring program to develop an in-depth analysis of program impact through a quasi-experimental study, including pre-tests and post-tests, in which YESS students are compared to a similar propensity-matched cohort of students who do not participate in YESS. Specific activities will include:

  • Conducting an in-depth analysis of the impact of the YESS peer-mentoring model on interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline—with a strong focus on discipline, attendance (including excused and unexcused absences), and substance abuse
  • Applying a quasi-experimental propensity matching study design
  • Seeking to achieve publication in a peer-reviewed journal


Carlo Kriekels
Co-founder & Executive Director
YESS Institute
1029 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, CO 80207
Phone: (303) 525-3859

Helen Penny
Resource Development Manager
YESS Institute
1029 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, CO 80207
Phone: (720) 383-4630

Richard Swanson
Executive Director
Aurora Research Institute
11059 E. Bethany Drive, Suite 105
Aurora, CO 80014
Phone: (303) 617-2574