To prevent middle and high school students from picking up alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education recently approved an agreement with the Santa Ana-based nonprofit Waymakers to launch a new curriculum this year.
The 10-session substance use prevention curriculum will likely appear in health and physical education classes in the 2020-21 school year, said Phil D’Agostino, director of student and community services. At least 900 students will benefit from the program.
“As far as more long-term outcomes, we’re obviously looking to reduce the number of students who are using drugs and alcohol in our schools,” D’Agostino said.
The program will be funded by the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Team. The contract is guaranteed for at least two years, with a high likelihood for a three-year extension.
NMUSD board member Ashley Anderson told D’Agostino at a recent board meeting that she is excited to see district officials team-up with Waymakers, which also provides emergency shelter to runaway, homeless, abused, and at-risk youth.
“I’ve seen really great things at the Huntington Beach youth shelter and several of the different partnerships so thank you for bringing this to our district,” she said.
The Drug Abuse Resistance Education initiative, co-founded by the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Unified School District in 1983, has largely been discredited by researchers. Among them were researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who published a study at the American Journal of Public Health in 2004.
“Our results confirm the findings of a previous meta-analysis indicating that Project D.A.R.E. is ineffective,” the authors wrote. “This is not surprising, given the substantial information developed over the past decade to that effect.”
The school district is trusting that this new curriculum is being developed by professionals in the field of substance and social-emotional development, D’Agostino said.
“In 2020, we’re a lot further along in our understanding of wellness, mental health, and substance abuse and the impact they’re having on our youth,” he said. “We’re trying to throw resources and personnel at this problem. This is a much larger community and societal issue that needs to be tackled with greater action by community leaders and our state and federal legislators.”
Under the Waymakers program, students will learn skills for coping with peer influence and the negative impacts of abusing nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and prescription drugs. The initiative is part of administrators’ toolbox for this complex problem, which also includes offering counselors and tracking the progress of students caught possessing substances at school.
“Our school district is committed to supporting the development of healthy students who make responsible decisions,” D’Agostino said. “The use of these substances have long-detrimental impacts on students’ physiological and mental health.”