September 07, 2011 | by Timothy Shoemaker
Schools are institutions for educating children—but are our schools doing their part in protecting kids from falling victim to the dangers of drugs and alcohol at an early age? Veteran police officer Timothy Shoemaker shares his insights about the importance of early intervention in schools as back-to-school season kicks in.
In my experience, there are three critical areas in which school systems around the country are lacking when it comes to educating children about addiction and substance abuse, the first being continuity. Substance abuse lessons are part of the busy life skills curriculum and built upon somewhat ambiguous core objectives. While most schools do incorporate lessons on the topic, the instruction is typically brief and intermittent. I work for a relatively ideal school system, but its middle school students receive just one legitimate block of substance abuse education over the entirety of their three-year span. At the same time, they are getting bombarded daily with pro-drug advertisements and propaganda. It’s little wonder that we are losing the battle.
Ideally, there would be one instructor or team of instructors that would follow the kids from the fifth grade through the 12th to combat this issue. This way, a rapport could be built, and much credibility would be lent to the substance abuse messaging. This would be more effective than an obligatory lesson delivered sporadically by physical education teachers. Carried out correctly, this engagement could be invaluable.
The second area in which school systems are lacking is in that of parent engagement. A community revolves around its school system, which brings families together like no other institution. It naturally brings together kids, parents, organizations and government entities. The schools could be potently influential in the widespread dissemination of proactive anti-drug strategies, with parents leading the initiative. Parents possess a leadership position which could be used as a platform for developing positive community objectives in relation to reducing drug abuse in our neighborhoods.
Lastly, and perhaps most controversially, I believe we need more character education in our schools. I’m not talking about conservative values being pushed on our children; rather leadership values being instilled into their education. Qualities like integrity, authenticity, responsibility and altruism are personal assets that can inoculate kids against drug use. The teaching of these values should be a consistent, prominent theme.