Valerie McCarthy: Educating youths |

Valerie McCarthy: Educating youths

This letter is in response to the article in the Feb. 7, 2010, Steamboat Pilot & Today titled "Parents, police worry marijuana dispensaries confuse kids." In this article, community members and the Steamboat Springs Police Department expressed concern regarding the education provided by Steamboat schools to students in the area of drugs and alcohol. As a counselor at Soda Creek Elementary, I would like to educate the community on the education that is provided to the students in the area of drugs and alcohol, regardless of its legality.

At the elementary level through the counseling curriculum, students are taught refusal skills (i.e., saying "no" to dares, drugs, guns, etc.) starting as young as kindergarten. Capt. Joel Rae mentioned in the article that students are taught about strangers, however "stranger danger" is no longer a supported program for numerous reasons. Students at Soda Creek Elementary are taught to "check first" with a trusted adult when going somewhere or accepting something from someone. Fourth- and fifth-graders are taught information about the types of drugs including discussion about why drugs and alcohol are used and their effects. Emphasis is placed on the negative effects they have on kids and growing brains and bodies. In addition, in most school years, the elementary schools collaborate with Grand Futures Prevention Coalition in providing a "teach in" that also addresses drugs and alcohol. In fifth grade, there is emphasis in refusal skills as they prepare for middle school.

At Steamboat Springs Middle School, every student in grades six, seven and eight attends a health class, known as Basic Life Training. The substance abuse curriculum includes: basic knowledge about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, making decisions and refusal techniques, setting personal standards by making decisions about substance use early, learning appropriate ways to manage stress, focusing on the positive aspects in one's life and setting goals. In addition, the school counselors provide small groups for students that also support healthy coping strategies and prevention of risky behavior.

At Steamboat Springs High School, all students are required to take a health class as part of graduation requirements. The class focuses on the physiological effects of drugs and alcohol, as well as the cycle of addiction, including binge drinking. Peer pressure is discussed, as are the relationship between drug and alcohol use and at-risk behaviors. There is also a unit that focuses on the impact of drug use on individuals, families and society, including advertising in our culture. Student Resource Officer Josh Carroll is part of this class.

In addition, the high school has been instrumental in organizing communitywide opportunities and presentations to provide ongoing education about drug use, including the use of alcohol. There is a restorative justice process in place for students whose education has been impacted by their substance use. The high school counselors provide individual and group counseling addressing drug and alcohol issues and healthy choices. Counselors are dedicated to providing information through newsletter articles, group parent meetings and supplemental education materials.

Finally, a key component to prevention is parent involvement. Discussing drugs and alcohol with your child is essential in their ability to make healthy decisions. As a parent, it also is important to be involved in your child's life by taking the time to get to know their friends, what they watch on TV, the music they listen to and the messages conveyed, who they are with and where they are going (and don't be afraid to check up on them). It is also now recommended that parents regularly check Web sites, social sites and text messages so that you have knowledge and can provide appropriate guidance and support for your children. If you have further questions about the curriculum taught in the schools, feel free to contact the school counselor in that school.

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Valerie McCarthy

On behalf of all Steamboat Springs School District counselors

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