Journeys To Hell And Back (pt-3)
By JD LONG
Read Part 1 HERE
Read Part 2 HERE
This is the third and final installment of a three-part investigation into the drug epidemic intoxicating the Ohio Valley, where this final part delves into the education system.
HARRISON COUNTY – A story that began with the ambition of searching the education system for the current status of their drug education levels could easily have been turned into how a puzzling lack of communication flowing from school districts could be dangerously misinterpreted.
Out of nearly one dozen school districts around Ohio and several in West Virginia, only three calls were returned. Call it a lack of interest or a subject that still can’t be faced, there’s no way of knowing but one fact is for certain: Not nearly enough is being done where drug education is concerned if one confronts the ones who actually tackle the problems and hear their stories.
It’s there, but it’s buried in health books disguised like an ingredient in a cookbook for healthy living. The subject of drugs and what they do to the body; addiction and what it does to a human life is treated as part of something else-not to stand alone as the drug itself does, which dominates the news where it’s also disguised as robberies, petty crimes and seemingly nonsensical behavior where the roots are hidden, sometimes not so subtly.
In Ohio, the state sets standards that each board of education must use as guidelines for their schools, as most if not all states follow. Superintendent of Harrison Hills School District in Cadiz, Dana Snider spoke thoughtfully on the drug education issue, touching on the D.A.R.E. program and the various speakers the area schools host throughout a school year. Then there is the Safe Schools Healthy Students’ grant that pays for preventionists who are trained counselors where they visit schools and educate students on the types of good choices they need to look at in life.
“Health class is where drug education comes in, which is mixed in with other life choices (not just drug education.),” Snider said. “It’s a part of a bigger picture in lifestyle,” such as taking care of the body, food groups and smoking dangers.
But is it enough? Snider wonders too.
“I wonder if anybody is doing anything to curb drug use?” She asked apparently thinking beyond the norm of acceptance. “We’re doing superficial things,” she admits adding that they give the kids the knowledge and they take it where they eventually have to make their own choices in life.
Snider said she would like the subject of drugs touched on “intermittently” and asked honestly whether there is enough material for a textbook that deals solely with drug education on at least a weekly basis, when asked.
Snider admits that the “one-shot” deal doesn’t work and that more exposure to the dangers of drugs and abuse are needed.
An educator in a central New Jersey school district basically repeated the same system found in Snider’s district regarding health class and a textbook where drugs are touched on only partially sprinkled in with speakers, such as the ones from D.A.R.E. for example.
And Ohio and the Valley are not alone. He described the drug problem in Monmouth and Ocean Counties as “rampant.” Heroin is big and cheap he said. “It’s not good around here.” He also agreed that not enough is being done in school systems in general. Drug education, he said, is emphasized in freshman, junior and senior years (sophomores are given driver’s ed), which is included in their health curriculum. Professional development with speakers, forum talks, which include police officers, detectives and members of the prosecutor’s office all pitch in to talk to youngsters.
“In our curriculum itself we go to professional developments…we have speakers come in or else we’ll go to a professional development where we’ll listen to a forum talking about the drug situation,” he said. “We try to tell them all about the bad and negative stuff about drugs which we’re kind of preaching almost every day in our health classroom.”
He also knows of no textbooks in any of the area schools that deal only with drug education. He said just a couple chapters in their Glencoe health textbooks touch on drug education.
“It’s more vague than it should be. [It] kind of touches on what type of drug it is, the definition of it…” the educator said, who like many wished not to be quoted by name. “But as a teacher most of us that teach health we kind of take it to the next step and we talk about the cons of taking or smoking marijuana, taking cocaine or heroin and we kind of go through all that.” He said they also show videos to supplement what is in the health books.
“We’re trying to get the point across but from a curriculum standpoint it’s in there but our books I wouldn’t say are dealing with it the way it should be,” he said and added that he also feels there may be enough for a drug education text book but it would have to be approved by the New Jersey Department of Education.
“I think that’s what is holding it up.
“It’s going to have to happen because the drug epidemic is totally out of control now,” he continued the local newspaper is armed with articles concerning drug busts or an overdose case. He said he brings those articles into the classroom for discussion.
Another educator in a Chicago suburb school district spoke of the same curriculum concerning the extent of drug education: Health class. He said only about one-quarter of the year is drug education dealt with in his middle school.
A spokesperson for the Columbus City School District, though, painted a rosier picture for their drug education calling it “substantial.” They also begin with health education classes that he said start early on in the elementary system where they deal with the “practical rules for taking medicines.”
As students their high school drug education becomes more specific with a whole unit within a semester on preventing drug abuse, according to the spokesperson.
“What are some of those resistant skills to help them have that firm voice what they think they need to know to help others to even say “no” to abusing drugs,” he explained.
“While we are not seeing that (drugs) directly in our schools, we know that many of our students they may be impacted by somebody that’s in their neighborhood, maybe a relative…” he said referring to opioid abuse. His statement is backed up by Lt. Larry Yates of the Columbus Division of Police narcotics unit regarding a lack of any open drug problem in the schools there.
The most promising attack on the drug issue may have started in the little known district of Talawanda, Ohio. There, Health and Wellness Coordinator, Amy Macechko has worked tirelessly for the past 10 years. In her 13th year, Director of Communications, Holli Morrish proudly notes not only the health and wellness programs but their outreach programs that stretch far into the community.
A coalition that is based at Miami University works closely with their program where Morrish called it, “Amy’s baby” where it has morphed into other wellness programs, and where Macechko explained that all grade levels address drug education.
“We address drug prevention across all grade levels but in a very developmentally appropriate way,” she said adding that a “district adapted health curriculum” also addresses the drug issue.
“We know that the research that is behind those (40 Developmental Assets) is that the more assets or the skills valued traits and relationships that young people have and support, the more likely they are to stay away from the risk-taking behavior…” Macechko explained while referring to either abusing or even just experimenting with drugs. She said they look, with the help of the coalition, to work to build assets in young people.
“I would say that is the foundation of what we are trying to do,” Macechko said.
Morrish spoke of a frightening practice many adults may not have heard of. It’s called “bowling.”
“…If your kid says, ‘hey, I’m going bowling,’ you may want to ask a few more questions.” What Morrish was talking about is not rolling a ball down a hard wood floor but a group of kids attending a party where they toss a variety of pills into a bowl “and when it’s your turn you take something out of the bowl” without knowing what it is.
Macechko called it “Russian Roulette” where Morrish emphasized how important it is for parents to know what their children know to better sharpen their radar. Regarding the textbook issue, Morrish took a different approach where she felt it was the wrong way to go.
“I don’t think a textbook is really the way to approach that,” she said bluntly. “I don’t think that engages young people this day and age.” Morrish noted the age of technology where she feels textbooks, at least on this subject are an “outdated teaching tool in some regards.”
She believes that their way, of multiple strategies is the way to approach the subject noting how different each person is and how they approach things.
“I think that having all of these multiple programs, multiple strategies,” Morrish said, “I feel like there’s something, there’s a nugget, there’s a message that is going to get to every kid in this school because we’re not doing it just one way.”
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