This week across the nation, schools recognized Red Ribbon Week, the country’s oldest and largest drug prevention program with the commitment to create a drug-free America.
Over the past several weeks, Denton County students have participated in a program that equips them with the knowledge to resist drug and alcohol advances.
STAY SAFE (Student Training and Youth Substance Abuse Fighter Education), a program established in 2006 by Denton County Sheriff’s Deputy Leslie Willingham, educates students about drugs, alcohol, tobacco and how to take control in peer pressure situations. Denton County sheriff’s officers facilitate the program.
“It basically teaches the students facts about drugs,” Willingham said. “It doesn’t rely on someone’s opinion — it goes straight to the facts.”
Students in fifth grade participate in six STAY SAFE courses, while seventh-graders and high school students participate in seven courses. The curriculum is presented within eight school districts in Denton County, Willingham said, and the STAY SAFE curriculum is sometimes part of health and science classes.
The program is an effort to keep students out of juvenile detention facilities, she said. It also teaches students about not being helpless, thinking through what is going on when someone pressures them about drugs and the consequences of making poor choices.
“We’re making an effort in Denton County to shut down bad decisions and choices that are made because [students] don’t have the knowledge or experience to know better,” Willingham said. “It’s proactive.
“We basically teach them to think through ‘what will happen if I do this?’”
STAY SAFE courses cater to the particular needs of schools and individual classrooms, she said. Topics discussed include how drugs and alcohol impact the body, peer pressure, bullying, online predators and Internet safety.
Earlier this month, fifth-graders at Argyle Intermediate School completed their participation for the year in the STAY SAFE program and celebrated with a graduation. Students received gifts and a certificate of completion.
Lanie Rodgers, an Argyle Intermediate fifth-grader, said she learned things that were new to her, such as how the tar generally found in tobacco products can impact the human body.
She added that skills like those used in the “no game,” which teaches fifth-graders how to decline drugs and alcohol when offered, have better prepared her to face those challenges.
Michael Ball, counselor at Argyle’s Hilltop Elementary School and father to an Argyle Intermediate fifth-grader, told students at their STAY SAFE graduation Oct. 16 that they will one day be tested on what they learned in the program, and that it will come in the form of “pass or fail.”
The test can happen at any time students might be pressured to use drugs and alcohol, he said.
“What we hope for all of you today is when the test comes, you’ll be ready,” Ball told students.
The program drives home an important message and students have fun and learn at the same time, said Ron Veit, Argyle Intermediate counselor. About 125 to 130 students at Argyle Intermediate were taken out of physical education courses every Tuesday for the first six weeks of school to participate in STAY SAFE activities. He said it is his hope that students participating in the program live drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free lives.
Beginning next year, the Argyle Police Department will become the first local law enforcement agency to fully facilitate and fund the STAY SAFE program in its own town. Willingham said two officers have participated in training and will soon take full responsibility in conducting the program in Argyle schools. This year, officers trained in the program participated in presenting materials and activities to Argyle students.
Ponder Superintendent Bruce Yeager said the program has been offered at age-appropriate levels to students at all three Ponder school district campuses since 2006. The program is “fabulous,” and Willingham is “unbelievable,” he said.
“Ponder ISD is proud to partner with the Denton County Sheriff’s office to provide this valued instruction to our students,” Yeager wrote in an e-mail.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.