Everyday tweens and teens are bombarded with the glamorization of drug and alcohol abuse. How often so you see a teen movie that doesn’t feature a party where kids are drinking? When was the last time you saw a liquor commercial where the actors weren’t having a fabulous time? Teachers and parents are fighting an uphill battle to educate kids on the dangers of addiction.
Mayor Gabe Campana has taken steps to implement a new program into local schools in an effort to make that battle a little easier to win. Campana has enlisted the help of Williamsport Police Department Officer ‘Doc’ Miller and his wife Chris to educated kids about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes via ‘Project ALERT’, a classroom based substance abuse prevention program.
Once a week, for eleven weeks ‘Officer Doc’ and his wife Chris will be speaking to 6th graders in at St. John Neumann Elementary (formerly St. Boniface) and at West Branch School about the real world dangers of substance abuse.
RAND Corporation, who developed Project ALERT, field-tested the program for ten years and saw very positive results, including:
• 40% drop in students already experimenting with cigarettes in becoming regular smokers
• 24% lower alcohol misuse score
• 20% reduction of highest-risk early drinkers
• 20 to 25% decrease in cigarette use during the past month
• 33 to 55% decrease in regular and heavy usage of cigarettes
• 60% decrease in current marijuana use
While the program is designed in such a way that any teacher can effectively use the program, Mayor Campana felt that having a police officer run the program would be more impactful. Since Doc Miller had previous experience as a DARE officer, he was a natural choice. His wife, Chris, volunteering to aid him was helpful as well.
During my visit I saw kids get excited about learning about substance abuse prevention. They were given an interactive project to work on about the dangers of smoking. They were learning about truth in advertising. They were asked to take real ads for cigarettes and make them truthful. For example, they were given the advertising tag line “Newport Cigarettes, Alive with Pleasure” and turned it into the more candid truth – “Newport Cigarettes, Death with Every Pack.”
One of the biggest things I noticed about my time in the classroom was that these kids are being given very frank information. I think being as honest (while being age appropriate) with kids as possible about the dangers of drugs and alcohol is a very important step in prevention. Children need to understand that the dangers are real and affecting kids their own age. The reality is that drug use can alter a teen’s life forever. That’s why every student should be given the tools to make a decision against using drugs – and outside of the home the best place to give them those tools is in a classroom – with kids they know and people they trust.
Through Project ALERT kids are being given skills and strategies they need to say no. They are taught the truths and myths about drugs and alcohol and are shown how to say no if drugs, alcohol or tobacco are offered to them. It is also presented in a way that is easy for the tween/teen set to understand. Project ALERT aims to change the mindset that in order to be ‘cool’, kids must be smoking, drinking or doing drugs and cultivates a new ‘non-use’ attitude.
The kids are also given opportunities to submit any questions they may have about drugs, alcohol or smoking. Those questions are then answered by Officer Doc and Chris.
I can definitely see the advantages of this program and the effect that it could have on kids. Hopefully we will see an expansion of this program into other local schools in the future.