BARTONVILLE — Limestone Community High School freshmen got a peek at a drug safety and mental wellness program coming to schools all over central Illinois.
The program is designed to give kids a deeper understanding of issues that will likely affect them at some point in their lives, and it marks a fundamental shift from how these topics were addressed in the past.
“We failed in mental health education with past generations,” Dave Briggs told the group. As director of the Peoria Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Group, Briggs is one of the experts who attended the assembly. “Since then we’ve realized we can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem. ... Now we’re going to try to empower you guys with the right tools and information so you can make the right choices.”
The program, which was developed by EVERFI Inc., is being offered to area schools free of charge by UnityPoint Health and Hult Center for Healthy Living. At Limestone Community High School, it will be implemented into the health classes taught to ninth-graders beginning in November.
“This will supplement the program we do on drugs,” said health teacher Darin Driscoll. “This will go way more in depth. It gives us resources we can do a lot more with.”
The program can be taught in a variety of ways, said Lauren Pingul, an EVERFI employee who helps implement the program in schools.
“Courses are standalone online, but they also can be expanded into classes,” she said.
Pingul said a number of schools in central Illinois will likely be adopting the programming.
“Eureka schools have already started teaching it, and I’ve had such positive responses from some other schools,” she said.
The program focuses on two topics. The basics of mental wellness equips students with the skills to build, maintain and promote positive mental health in themselves and their peers. The drug safety program prepares teens to stand up against prescription drug and opioid abuse.
“Myth or fact: Mental health is not treatable?” asked Jessica Johnson, an education specialist for Hult Center, while standing in front of about 100 freshmen at the high school Wednesday morning. Students had been given cards with “myth” on one side and “fact” on the other. The majority answered the question with “myth.”
Through the exercise, students assessed what they already know by answering questions on a variety of mental health and drug topics. Afterward, they broke into smaller discussion groups led by knowledgeable adults.
“What are you going to do if you go to a sleepover and your girlfriend starts having an overdose?” asked Briggs. One student in the group covered her face and giggled, while another said he would call for help, because if she died, someone could go to jail.
“That’s right. It’s called a drug-induced homicide,” said Briggs. “You are going to be faced with some of these decisions in the future. Some of you may already have.”
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