Helping Kids Say No to Drugs: A Nonprofit Organization Provides HopeJuly 17, 2007 | Dr. Katie Klinger
Over the years, we have seen drug abuse spread throughout our schools, even at the elementary school level. As communities, we have made concentrated efforts to resolve this problem. Many education experts and law-enforcement officials agree that prevention -- through education and community action -- is the key to reducing the incidence of drug abuse, but initial attempts by educational institutions to deter drug use by simply providing information on the subject have failed.
The role legal or illegal drugs play in a person's life is partly determined by his or her life-skill level. However, the primary responsibility for the development of these skills has shifted from the family to the school.
A decade ago, the nonprofit organization Telesis, in San Diego, California, developed a series of K-12 programs to meet the needs of school districts struggling to provide high-quality curricula on topics such as creating a safe and drug-free school, peer counseling, character education, and life skills/career design. These programs were implemented successfully in California and Washington with glowing feedback from teachers, parents, and administrators. Then Telesis took a rest, thinking it had given communities the tools necessary to address these issues.
However, the problems have only increased. In response to this challenge in our schools, Telesis is once again offering these programs, now updated and available online with resources. This fall, charter schools such as the Myron B. Thompson Academy, in Honolulu, Hawaii, will be the first to beta test these revised programs while Telesis collects data for evidence-based research.
Each program in the series comes with a teacher manual, an integration matrix with major areas of emphasis, and a student workbook in .pdf format, all to be used as primary or supplemental materials to existing programs.
One of the programs in this comprehensive series, That's Life, addresses drug education for children at all grade levels and includes an evaluation scalable for school districts. An additional benefit of all of the programs is a one-day professional-development workshop for teachers, parents, and administrators.
The Kids Care program shares methods for creating a nurturing environment in the classroom. The material is grade-level specific and meets students' needs via small-group and large-group interaction as students participate in role-playing, brainstorming, and sharing. The curriculum addresses the importance of, and ways to improve, social skills with grade-appropriate concepts for grades preK-6.
The Teens Care component (part of the Kids Care program), for grades 7-12, focuses on grade-appropriate concepts such as learning to respectfully meet one's own needs, as well as relationships, conflict resolution, how to cope with stress, good decision-making practices, and understanding responsibility.
That's Life is derived from prior research on what children are likely to know at each grade level. Instructional time is realistic because activities were selected based on what children need to know rather than what is nice for them to know. It contains a recognizable no-drug-use theme throughout with a no-nonsense approach to classroom facilitation that requires little preparation. Main focus areas are on life skills, wellness, personal and family health, and environmental and community health.
The curriculum is grade specific, parent interactive, and designed for infusion with a suggested reading list. A program to evaluate accrued knowledge, change in attitude, and behavioral outcomes, and assessment of environmental factors, also accompanies this health- and language-arts-based curriculum.
Theories regarding specific causes of drug abuse are varied. One conclusion maintains there is no single cause of drug use or abuse; rather, there are many factors. Common themes in studies about adolescent drug use include low self-esteem, boredom, and peer pressure. These results have led to the development of Telesis's Peer Counseling program, which emphasizes self-understanding, communication, interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, peer leadership, decision making, counseling, and pharmacology. The program helps students develop a positive self-image so they can choose healthy alternatives in life rather than destructive ones.
Finally, in Telesis's Design Your Own Life program, teens are encouraged to think about aspects of life, including personal values, vital statistics, employment, and preparing and saving for college. As mentioned earlier, a charter school in Hawaii will participate in the beta test by first using its current career-skills and technical-skills curricula for a semester and then trying the Design Your Own Life program during the second semester. The students will print out each program section as they go through the class and create a book they can later refer to in college or when job prospecting.
The diversity of these programs demonstrates years of careful research and development. We are fortunate that people at nonprofit organizations continue to care so deeply about the future of our children and communities. Our responsibility now is to use these tools to strengthen that commitment.
Over the coming months, I'll report on the pilot schools' progress with the programs at each grade level and discuss candidly what the teachers, parents, and administrators believe works or doesn't work. If you know of a school that may be interested in beta testing these programs within the next year, please respond to this blog so I can relay your information to Telesis for consideration.