Sep 12, 2018

Prevention/Intervention Coordinator: Let’s Unite to Fight Substance Abuse

Logo for Walk and Talk

It’s no secret that drugs, particularly opiates, are a significant problem in Ohio and the nation. The problem also affects Pickerington and our district’s students.

That’s a significant reason Pickerington Schools Board of Education approved a new staff position to focus specifically on issues related to prevention and intervention, starting with the 2018-19 school year.

“We recognize that the opioid epidemic has hit Ohio,” said Cathy Ely, who was hired as the district’s first Prevention and Intervention Coordinator after previously working as the District Social Worker. “We want to be able to respond to that, not only as a district but as a community. I think Pickerington Schools is being very progressive in addressing this situation by determining we must focus more on prevention, and not just responding to crises as they arise.”

Ely stresses she is working closely with the woman who replaced her as District Social Worker, Jessie Burr, as well as school counselors, administrators, interns, local law enforcement, the court system, community mental health and substance abuse agencies, and even local businesses.

“First, we need to celebrate the positive things we already have going on in our schools and community,” Ely said. “We need to recognize those efforts and support them, and then find additional resources as we develop a comprehensive, K-12 approach.”

For example, all three middle schools already work with The Recovery Center on prevention education, including the highly regarded “Too Good for Drugs” program. The high schools have Drug Free Clubs, and the district frequently partners with Tyler’s Light on educational programs and events. Student athletes receive preseason and random drug tests. Programs in the junior high schools have included a partnership with Battelle in which students competed last school year to develop the best drug awareness and prevention campaigns. Junior high school counselors also presented a session on “Student Success Teams” at The Ohio State University’s Opioid Conference for Educators in July.

Part of Ely’s mission is to ensure all the programs fit together in a logical approach to K-12 prevention and awareness that also addresses the needs of students who have never experimented with drugs and alcohol themselves.

“Elementary children can also be affected by experiencing drug use and abuse in their families,” Ely said. “These kids experience this kind of trauma very early in their lives. When they come to school, they’re not able to focus and learn because they’re carrying that trauma around with them.”

The schools need to develop a holistic, trauma-sensitive approach that ensures children know the schools are a safe haven for them. That means ensuring educators are sensitive to these students’ needs and what they may be dealing with outside the school day.

“We need to ensure we are not retraumatizing children with situations that are overwhelming to their coping skills,” Ely said. “We need to take care of the whole child, because until the basic needs of safety, security, and a sense of belonging are met, they can’t move on to the critical task of learning.”

One of the places Ely says it will be important to start is to get a baseline assessment of students’ social and emotional learning skills. Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Ultimately, this is not a problem that can be solved by one person, Ely said. That’s why she’s focusing on identifying existing programs and resources and building additional partnerships to help in this effort.

“Pickerington addresses the whole child,” she said. “That’s our goal. Unless you address the whole child, they’re not going to be ready to learn.”

Jessie Burr, Pickerington Schools’ new District Social Worker, said that while it is certainly critical to focus on these issues, it is equally important to keep the opioid crisis in perspective and realize that – despite what some may think – most students are not using drugs and alcohol.

“Students who don’t experiment with drugs and alcohol are the majority,” Burr said. “We have to have a community change in mindset and change that perception. Most students are making good choices.”

One of the main things parents can do is actually pretty simple, Ely said. Talk to your children. Youths are 50 percent less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol if they talk with a trusted adult about not using, Ely said. The overwhelming majority of youths have not experimented with substance, she said.

Want to get more information and get more involved?

Ely also is organizing a Prevention Walk and Talk featuring the “Know! Parent Tips”. The event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, October 27, at Victory Park in Pickerington.

Know! Parent Tips

Know! provides parents (or guardians and other caregivers) with twice monthly, free tips by email that contain current facts about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, as well as action steps they can take to help children resist peer pressure to use.

Know! aims to increase parental:

  • Awareness that every child is at-risk for using substances;
  • Knowledge about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs;
  • Conversations with children about the importance of non-use.

Join Ely and others at the first Prevention Walk and Talk featuring the Know! Parent Tips from 1-4 pm Saturday, Oct. 27, at Victory Park in Pickerington. Research shows that an 11 minute walk can boost your mood, and youth are 50 percent less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol if they talk with a trusted adult about not using. The overwhelming majority of youth have NOT experimented with substances. Prevention is the key!