Drug education essential

Teachers should be trained to look for signs of drug abuse in students, and use the influence they have in the classroom to help kids make the choice to avoid drug use, according to a local educator and a police officer.

“It is a teacher’s job to notice these things, to pay attention to any behavior changes or signs and help them get into a treatment program before they end up dead with a needle in their arm,” said Denise Holloway, supervisor of prevention and intervention at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center.

Meanwhile, the standing teachers have can be used to positively shape correct decision-making.

“That is what is going to make a difference in the long run. And if you can stop five or 10 kids from making the wrong choice over your career, you’ve had a great career,” Jeff Orr, a captain with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office who also is commander of the Trumbull-Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force, said recently to a class at Youngstown State University of soon-to-be teachers.

Recognizing the warning signs and wielding their influence are among several ways educators are tackling the issue of drug addiction in schools. Other ways include one-on-one sit downs with the students to taking advantage of drug and alcohol education programs that supplement lessons already built into the curriculum.

Ohio mandates drug education in schools, but there are programs available to supplement what districts provide.

The Trumbull County Educational Service Center and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board offer in-school programs to districts for free and Orr often makes anti-drug presentations at local school districts.

“All schools are mandated to do some things, but we are here to help them go the extra step. When we can get out there and do something for the students, the teachers, the parents, and help them in a comprehensive way, they are more likely to remember it, to stick to it,” Holloway said.

Orr last year spoke to high school students in Lordstown, Cortland,Champion, Bristol, Southington, Howland and Leavittsburg. He also visited Champion Middle School, Jefferson PK-8 in Warren, schools in McDonald and in Niles and spoke to staff at the Bloomfield-Mespo School District.

The recovery board contracts with Meridian Healthcare and Compass Family and Community Services to provide services in schools, said Laura C. Domitrovich, children’s program coordinator for the recovery board.

Meridian provides school-based prevention for districts in Niles, Girard, Howland, Maplewood, Mineral Ridge, Lakeview, Liberty and Lordstown Domitrovich said.

Most school districts in Trumbull County have in-house ways of educating students about drug abuse, both in curriculum-guided lessons and in other activities.

In Warren City Schools and several other districts, the schools start by teaching the youngest elementary students to be assertive and look out for their well-being, said Jill Merolla, supervisor of community outreach and grant development for the district.

“Having that social skill, of being assertive, makes it more likely the student will know how to respond if they are offered something. We give them the right tools for their toolbox and teach them how drugs and alcohol could make them sick,” Merolla said.

And as the students age, they learn about the health and social risks associated with drug use, Merolla said.

Also, guidance counselors meet regularly with local and state authorities to track information to distribute it within the districts, Merolla said.

“We have to be proactive, so when new things start happening, we can be prepared to respond in the students’ best interest,” Merolla said.

Ohio mandates high school graduates have 60 hours of drug education between ninth and 12th grade. Some of the required topics are the harmful effects of and laws against using drugs, alcoholic beverages and tobacco and prescription opioid abuse prevention, but some schools, like the Trumbull Career and Technical Center, don’t have a health curriculum and fall outside the mandate.

But that doesn’t mean the school isn’t addressing the issue, said Jason P. Gray, TCTC superintendent.

“Issues, crises such as these will not just go away. It is important that we implement early education and prevention. I hope that included in that is perhaps how to educate parents and guardians on the importance of and how to talk to their children about the dangers,” Gray said.

One of the ways to reach students is through Red Ribbon Week. Created in the 1980s by the National Family Partnership to promote drug education and provide communities with instruction resources, the week features a theme educators and police can plan events and activities around.

Another way, a one-on-one conversation.

“Share your personal knowledge, share the pain you’ve seen with your own eyes. At this point, we’ve all had some personal connection to the problem,” Orr said to the group at YSU. “As a teacher, if you aren’t sharing that knowledge you aren’t giving them a fair shot, it’s your job.”

Several districts offer students clubs designed to get older kids to teach younger kids about assertive ways to avoid drug use, and school resource officers hold assemblies, sharing true local stories with students, superintendents said.

But no matter how much school districts are doing to educate students about the risks of addiction, more can be done, Merolla said.

“We need to have a big enough impact that the message stays with these kids for life,” Merolla said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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