Encouraging healthy behavior and decreasing substance abuse in our community.


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Published on June 27th, 2019 | by Deb Wolf

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U-32 Moving & Shaking in the Prevention World

Current prEvents — June 21, 2019 — The Times Argus

By Jamie Blondin

Margaret Mead hit the nail on the head when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” U-32 middle and high school students have shown great dedication and excitement this school year, finding opportunities to make real-life impact in their school. “Getting to Y” and “Ghost Out” events raised awareness about substance use in the community, educated their peers about resources and trends, and created a prevention group to further address areas of concern and build upon what’s already successful.

The Students for Healthy Choices prevention movement started this past fall when a group of 20 middle school and 19 high school students from U-32 attended the “Getting to Y” retreat held by Up for Learning. Students examined the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data of their own school community. The students were led by the school social worker, Sherry Lewton, and they worked together to identify three strengths and three weaknesses of both the middle and high school, based on the data. The students facilitated a community dialogue night to share their findings, celebrate U-32’s successes, identify root causes of weaknesses, and brainstorm solutions to those problems.

The YRBS is a national survey given to 6-12th graders across the country and taken every two years. Youth just completed the 2019 survey. Many different topics are included, such as self-esteem, if they eat meals with their families, how much exercise they get, substance use rates, perception of harm of substances, and sexual violence. Questions are asked in a variety of ways and more than once to sift out unreliable data. Once everyone in Vermont completes the survey, the Vermont Department of Health sends them to the Center for Disease Control for further analysis. It takes about a year and a half for the states to get their individual results back, a source of frustration for those looking for more timely data. For instance, the time lag caused public health officials to miss the onset of the recent epidemic of vapes. Nonetheless, the survey is helpful for educators and the community to use as a planning tool.

At the public presentation, the students shared each school’s strengths and weaknesses to over 25 community members. Middle school strengths were: students know it is wrong to smoke at their age; they eat dinner with their family seven days a week; and they engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. However, they are concerned that too many students didn’t come to school because they felt unsafe either at, or on the way, to school; made plans to kill themselves; and have been electronically bullied. High school strengths include the fact that most students: have an adult in the building they can talk to; believe their parents think it is wrong to smoke; and there are too few daily smokers to count. Concerns include easy access to alcohol; experience of sexual violence; and high rates of vaping.

Students facilitated engaging conversations in small groups to help identify more root causes and action steps for each weakness. It was clear that the students and community really care about each other and want to work to improve areas of concern and celebrate where they are strong. This information was so well received by the community that it was suggested that the group present to the school board, which they did soon after.

U-32 Middle School students raised awareness about substances through a “Ghost Out.” Every 12 minutes one of the leadership team members put a ghost sticker on the cheek of another student to represent opioid overdose deaths. The Ghost Out was kept a secret from the student body, except for those who were chosen to be ghosts, because they wanted to get the students curious and asking questions. The event concluded at lunch time and the whole middle school attended an assembly to debrief the morning’s event. The Ghost Out process was explained and students learned about available resources as well as ways the students can be involved.

Simultaneously that day, the Students for Healthy Choices group had an informational table to promote their new club on campus. They prepared two surveys, on marijuana and alcohol, to get a better sense of student use, knowledge, and perceptions of harm. Students who completed surveys were eligible to enter a raffle to win a number or prizes, and given a bracelet and treats for their involvement. Many students participated and this generated interest in the new group on campus.

Prevention is taking shape in many forms at U-32 and it’s clear that youth and adults alike care about their school community. Youth learn invaluable life skills and can be a catalyst for change when they are given opportunities to be directly involved in creating solutions to issues in their school community. Stay tuned for what they’re up to next!

Jamie Blondin is the Prevention Educator for Washington County at Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in Montpelier, 802-223-4949.

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