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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Helping Kids Say No to Drugs: A Nonprofit Organization Provides Hope

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

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.

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
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Bonnie Bracey-Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the ideas of the drug programs to help kids that Katie has offered. As a teacher I have often followed various programs to help kids learn about drugs.

The problem with drugs is the environment in which the kids live and the loss of hope for many in life. I like the idea that parents , teachers and others will be involved.Parental support and counseling is key. Jobs, and supervision help.

I have worked in drug programs in medical facilities. It's a hard slog. Knowing about what drugs can do is one thing, reality, and the poverty and low expectations of life are another.

There are schools where walking after dark to attend a meeting, or to do after school assignments, are a problem because there are drug sales going on in the area. Children risk getting shot for little or no reason. There has to be some other way of helping the communities who have these problems that goes beyond the school.

Teachers in these schools need counseling help and should keep the Pro-child number handy. There is no bullying like that of peer groups trying to make
others use drugs. We lose a lot of scholars in that way, they bow to the pressure. I wish there were a program that assisted students who were trying to be different in meaningful ways.It takes more than a parent.
The school programs help but the problems that cause drug use are deep and endemic. Working in a school in which there are many parent users is a little difficult. I am glad Katie has brought these programs to us as examples.

Awareness is a good thing.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Bonnie Bracey-Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The problem of drugs is a good one to probe, Katie.

We have however in the minority communities such a problem that there needs to be more attention paid to it at a government level. Teaching the kids helps but there is not a reliable infrastructure for the people who are in the communities who are on drugs. Often the children are the victims of violence, and may lose their lives just sitting in their bedrooms if there is a drive by shooting. Or if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are many t-shirt memories of students who have not survived in their communities of need.

Some of the drug problems are related to a societal problem in our country. At some levels recreational drugs seem to be the culture of the rich, while crack and other cheap based drugs are in the barrios and ghetto areas. There is light sentencing for the recreational drugs and no long term jail sentences while for crack there is incarceration without any intervention.

Counseling and intervention before the problem begins helps.

Children are often pawns in this kind of situation. I grew up in a community where there were drugs. I risked being beaten up on the way to school, or in the community center. Things have not changed much as peer pressure is even more a problem now. We now have gang signs and forced rituals that create problems for youth in and out os drug cultures. I lost several of my best friend to drugs , and some of the children I taught. I think it was not my fault, I think it was the hopelessness of their existence. My parents were helpful, active and paying attention all along.

There is an underground culture that is a part of the drug culture. I think it is easy to fall into the trap no matter what public programs there are unless there is some intervention in the communities for parents. The thug culture
makes it seem normal, and most of what they talk about teachers don't speak of.

Those in communities of difficulty are often compromised. the drug, crack cocaine is a problematic drug and use is a medical and social problem as well as a problem for the criminal justice system. Thousands of people in different areas of government, local government, the voluntary and the private sector are working to reduce the damage it causes. How can we best balance and integrate their efforts? As Katie says, some of the community programs help with the awareness, but the problem is very deep.

In this week in my area, Metropolitan Washington, three suburban students were arrested with a couple million dollars worth of drugs. One of the girls was 14. There was a murder near the new baseball stadium of a child 15.
We have to know about gang cultures and often teachers and adminstrators don't know much about this problem.

What are some of the signs that gangs are active in the community?

The appearance of graffiti on buildings, bridges, schools, and other structures.
Groups of students wearing particular colors and jewelry, and using hand gestures.
An increase in the number of violent assaults and conflicts between particular groups.
An increase in illicit drug activity.

I haven't heard much from whomever the drug czar is in our country.

Bravo to you Katie for helping us to think about solutions.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Tamara Pierson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After talking to my own children and their friends about the drug problem in our small, coastal CT town, they told me the people they have running the programs or "preaching" to them are people they can't relate. When I mentioned this to a friend who happens to have a son a few years out of the high school and is in a sobriety house, she told me a conversation she had with him. He made the request, as part of his program, to have a panel discussion or even to talk to the student body about his personal experience. He wanted the students to hear it from someone they could relate to as well as possibly know (our town is relatively small). His mom even said she would speak in conjunction with him or be willing to talk separately to the parents about the signs to look for and her experience before and during her son's recovery.
While this seemed like an excellent idea to me and to all the people I've mentioned it to, our schools have yet to take him up on it. I'm disappointed that our actions aren't matching our words. Kids often won't open up and will tune out a DARE officer but they will listen to one of their peers.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not agree with you more. I teach at the secondary level and teach Health Education and one unit we spend a lot of time on is drug and alcohol abuse. I also live and teach in a small community and alcohol consumption is at an alamring rate. Many local residents state that it has been this way for long time in the community and I just can not understand the approval that parents give to this problem. I have heard that if they are going to drink i would much rather they do it in my own house so I know they are not driving or their friends do not drive. I honestly feel some, not all parents want to be friends and not parents in these type of situations. I have tried to inform kids on the dangers and life long addiction that comes from this behavior. But when the support in their own home is not prevelant it makes it tough to get through to these kids. It is frustrating at times but we still have to push and educate our youth.

Jason's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Tamara- I couldn't agree with you more. I remember taking a summer class for health about drugs and dependence. The instructor had a recovering alcoholic come in and share their story of success and failure. This helped bring reality to the course. Hearing about her addiction and the things she had struggled with were very real and very sad. I know that this helped her by talking about it and it brought a harsh reality to life for us students. Would this be appropriate at the 5th-6th grade level?

Narconon drug rehab's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's true, schools should represent a source of protection against drugs and still there are kids doing drugs all over the place. It's hard to face this but it's the truth, I think this educational program would be most helpful for those kids.

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