After-school programs for middle school students are currently in existence through the YMCA. Lake Forest, Cleveland and Ocoee middle schools average about 60 students in the program. The Going Respectively Against Addictive Behaviors Coalition will come alongside the YMCA to offer further guidance.
“We are focusing on academics and health and wellness. A part of health and wellness is drug and alcohol prevention,” said Rodney Murray, YMCA senior program director. “[Drug and alcohol prevention] was a component we did not have.”
GRAAB benefits from access to students while expanding the current YMCA program.
Middle school students were chosen especially in an effort to address the sixth grade, a critical stage.
“Sixth grade is usually the pivot point where the average ‘good kid’ goes down the wrong path,” Murray said.
Added Tanya Southerland, GRAAB director, “There is actually data proving they can start inhaling substances in second grade around age 7. That threw me for a loop. At that age I am thinking building blocks and coloring books.”
Both Southerland and Murray said a new approach will be used in addressing alcohol and drug abuse concerns.
“It is not going to be the same, ‘Don’t do drugs’ speech. We will give them the information and ask them what they think,” Southerland said. “[We will ask], ‘Can you carry this information to your peers? Would you like to help on the campaign?’”
Murray said too often the plan is to offer recovery programs instead of preventative measures.
“We are looking to make sure these students never go down the bad road in the first place,” Murray said.
Mentors will utilize straight talk on drug and alcohol abuse.
“We will tell them, ‘You are smart and healthy. We want you to stay this way and you want to stay this way. From an educated perspective, this is what happens when you go down this side road ....’”
Staying away from drugs and alcohol is just as important as grades and exercise, Murray said.
Southerland’s goal is for children to learn how to take their knowledge and transform it into something productive in the community.
“We are always looking for ways to make students leaders in our community,” Southerland said.
Students in the program were surveyed last October. They were assessed on Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents. Across the nation, only 8 percent hit the majority of the assets. October’s survey found 27 percent of children in the program had a majority of the assets in their lives.
“We are not claiming it is because children are in the YMCA program, but we are saying kids who are a part of the program are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol,” Murray said.
The survey assessed both internal and external assets. They included positive identity, social competencies, positive values, commitment to learning, constructive use of time, boundaries and expectations, empowerment and support.
“Where students hang out every day will have the most effect on who they become,” Murray said. “Hanging out with kids who have three times the numbers of assets, and who can share those assets, is a positive environment.”