MONTGOMERY - Hoping to prevent substance use among its students as they grow up and begin dealing with those difficult situations, Valley Prevention Services Inc. has created a program, "Too Good for Drugs," to teach elementary students the harm of illegal substances and alcohol.
The program was made possible through a grant from the Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The funding has allowed the program to reach about 700 individual classrooms in Lycoming and Clinton counties.
Cynthia A. Yevich, executive director of the foundation, said by funding the program, it has an "investment in prevention."
JOSEPH STENDER/ Sun-Gazette
Geoffrey S. Arthur, executive director of Valley Prevention Services Inc.; Cynthia A. Yevich, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania; Karen Snyder, Montgomery Area Elementary School principal; and Connie Wells, guidance counselor, stand with first-grade students who have participated in the “Too Good for Drugs” program. The program looks to prevent first use of any substance, including alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
"We're trying to prevent the first use of any substance," said Geoffery S. Arthur, executive director of VPS.
Arthur said although elementary students are not commonly using illegal drugs, tobacco or alcohol, they want to inform them of effects and harms because they soon will have be confronted with a situation involving them.
He said that students usually first try tobacco at age 12 and alcohol by 14 years old.
VPS holds a minimum of 10 45-minutes instruction periods per a classroom, to make sure the message is understood.
"We do not go into a classroom and do one program and leave," Arthur said.
Arthur said he uses evidence-based programming because he wants to make sure that the classes are affected by it.
Although younger grades don't fully grasp information about alcohol and illegal drugs, Arthur said they focus on their decision-making process. He said the phrase they use to help with making decisions is "stop and think."
"We're going to look at things for the first-grade level as setting goals and a good decision-making process," he said.
Arthur added that instead of just reading about the substances, the students role play and practice using the skills they've learned. And they don't only practice "worst-case" scenarios but everyday topics, such as cheating or disobeying a parent about going outside.
Connie Wells, guidance counselor at Montgomery Area Elementary School, said students enjoy the lessons.
"They're very interactive," she said.
"They're engaged in what's going on," added Karen Snyder, the school's principal.
And a change in behavior is being noticed. Not that they've had a problem with students, but Wells and Snyder said they've seen students think before acting. Students also better understand what they did wrong when they're in trouble.
"It shapes that behavior you want to see as they go to middle school and high school," Wells said.
And by having the program each year in elementary school, Arthur said students will keep the lessons fresh in their minds.
"Reinforcing these skills and information year after year makes it even more powerful," he said.
As Yevich explained, she believes the program is not only educating the students but the entire community.
"When you are able to change behavior and skills at a very young age, they're not only helping themselves, they're helping their peers," she said. " ... It's really how you start to change a generation."
Arthur said that the program can only give them the skills to deal with the situation, the true test will be once the students go out into the world.
"Once the kids walk out the door, then they're up against everything and that's what we're up against," he said. "We just want to do our very best so that when they walk out the doors, they do have skills (to deal with those situations)."