Effective Initiatives That Help Keep Your Students Off Drugs
Vol. 13 No. 9
Last issue, we discussed public service announcements (PSAs) that were ineffective by modern standards for various reasons, including unclear calls-to-action and inaccurate scare tactics that irreverent teenagers were more likely to mock than to heed. Therefore, we thought we’d take some time in this issue to talk about the ways in which schools can help their student body achieve change.
DON’T Be Vague
In the previous article, we showed a PSA entitled “This Is Your Brain on Drugs.” There were several reasons why this approach failed, from the condescending voice to the dearth of information presented. However, one of the primary lessons from this PSA is for educators to emphasize facts instead of vague scare tactics.
Advocate Shaunacy Ferro and researcher Carson Wagner both believe that educational programs that follow the example of the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA create what’s known as an information gap. As Wagner explained it to National Public Radio (NPR), “We become curious to close that gap in information. And, in this case, that gap in information is the experience of using drugs.”
Ferro agreed, adding, “Subconsciously, kids would start to think, Hmm, well, I don’t really know what doing drugs is like. Maybe I should try it.”
DO Encourage Positive Behaviors
Discouraging students from poor behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean “scaring them straight,” but rather encouraging positive behaviors that naturally overcome more negative life choices like mind-altering substances.
We’ve written previously about the new “Keepin’ it REAL!” program that has replaced the traditional D.A.R.E. program in schools across the country. This program works to emphasize positive decision-making through limited lecture and interactive role-playing of common social scenarios, rather than forcing students to sit through lectures on the dangers of risky behavior.
The program’s emphasis on positive behavior reinforcement seems to work. One comprehensive study of program graduates found that those who went through the program were less likely to engage in many risky behaviors—not just drugs—than their peers who didn’t have the “Keepin’ it REAL!” training.
DO Make Staying Clean “Cool”
This strategy can be a dangerous thing to attempt, given how quickly fads change. (Remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ad, in which the young boy called his bully a “turkey”?) Nonetheless, harnessing the power of popularity and a sort of “mob mentality” might be one of the strongest ways in which to keep your students on the straight-and-narrow.
One of the ways in which antidrug programs can do this effectively is by presenting statistics on just how common risky behaviors are within their age group (or the school’s student body). By emphasizing a different “normal” than the drug-filled cultural narrative that may be common in your community, you make drug users the “outsiders” and anomalies to the norm, rather than the clean students.
DO Cultivate a Supportive School Culture and Environment
Education World once published characteristics of a successful drug prevention curriculum. () As we reviewed this list, what struck us as remarkable was how many points on their list centered around the school’s culture as a whole, rather than specific aspects of a recommended antidrug curriculum.
For example, Education World advises that schools reshift their teaching models to “build [...] student strengths/skills that are incompatible with substance use,” as well as ensure that “every student is connected to at least one caring adult who serves as a positive role model.”
The first recommendation builds on ISM’s ongoing dedication to strengthening schools’ missions, which often outline desired moral characteristics in the schools’ student-graduates in addition to strictly academic achievements.
The latter point reiterates the importance of students trusting the adults placed in positions of authority, whether teachers, advisors, or other administrators. Only within a community in which adults have won the trust of their younger charges can true change be made—and monitored—within a school community.
Advisory programs are where student-adult relationships at your school start, and can help propel your students toward happiness and success—but only if they’re run effectively. Head to ISM’s Summer Institute for our highly interactive workshop, Hands-on Advisory: Curriculum, Themes, and Activities. There, you’ll learn core concepts for focusing and (re-)building your advisory program, based on decades of private-independent school research and taught by dedicated experts who understand first-hand the struggles and joys of a student advisor. Space is limited to ensure maximum attendee participation, so call 302-656-4944 to register.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 13 No. 8 Four Hilariously Ineffective Anti-Drug PSAs
The Source for Business Managers Vol. 13 No. 5 Drug Testing: The Basics
The Source for School Heads Vol. 12 No. 10 Prescription Drug Abuse Is (Still) a Problem in Private Schools
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 29 No. 6 Random Drug Testing Policies for Students