Directors hear pitch for program aimed at curbing teen substance abuse
Searsport — Patrick Walsh hopes to bring a substance-abuse prevention program into the district aimed at helping high school students who are at risk of developing substance-abuse problems, and Tuesday night, Nov. 12, Walsh pitched his idea to the Regional School Unit 20 board of directors.
Walsh, a substance abuse prevention coordinator at Broadreach Family and Community Services and at Healthy Waldo County, said the Student Intervention and Reintegration Program (SIRP) has broadened its focus since it was first established 10 years ago.
Walsh said it was initially designed to address drug and alcohol-fueled violence in schools, but it has recently broadened in scope in that it now serves students who may not have broken any school policies or laws but still are at risk of developing substance-abuse problems.
Through the use of a workbook and under the guidance of a licensed social worker, the students assess their own risk factors and offer information illustrating how using drugs or alcohol can serve as a barrier between them and their future goals, Walsh said.
Students in the program would undergo four three-hour after-school sessions, and Walsh said it would also include a presentation for parents at which they would receive educational materials aimed at assisting them with talking to their children about these issues.
Walsh said in order to bring the program into the RSU, he would need the use of a classroom and a separate meeting space for parents. The district staff, in turn, would need permission to offer information about the program and refer students to it if necessary. He also asked that the district help get the word out to parents in the district newsletter and on the website, and choose a high-school staffer who could serve as a "champion" for the program. The "champion," said Walsh, would act as a point-person for the program, in that they would follow up with the students after they complete the program. Walsh said the organizations he works with have budgeted a stipend for the "champion," who would also offer feedback about the program or any concerns he or she may have about a youth who has finished the program.
The program would also need the support of parents, Walsh said, in terms of sharing information about their children for the purposes of the program.
Maine is one of seven states aiming to implement the program statewide, Walsh said.
Director Valerie Mank said the program sounded like something that could benefit students in the RSU, but said she still wanted to see the district get a little more information on it before casting a vote in favor of bringing it into the schools.
"We need to make sure it's OK, as far as releasing information," she said.
Director Stephen Hopkins said he'd like to see the program go a step further.
"I like the idea of the program, the thing I have against it is it selects certain students," he said. " ... We should make it part of the curriculum so that all students, when they come to the high school, go through this."
Walsh also addressed questions about who would facilitate the program. He said a Belfast Area High School graduate and Waldo County resident who is also a licensed social worker would take on that role. Walsh said the individual has completed training for the Driver Education and Evaluation Program, better known as the DEEP program, which adults who have committed drunk-driving offenses may be court ordered to take as part of their sentence.
"This [program] is a derivation of that," said Walsh.
Director Sharon Catus asked Walsh how the program has worked in other states.
A recent, three-year study that included 300 youth who completed the program showed the program appeared to have a positive impact, Walsh said.
"There was a noted decrease in the reported use of substances in each category after 90 days of the conclusion of the program," he said.
In Maine, Walsh said the program resulted in a decrease in alcohol and marijuana use among students.
Director Charlie Grey asked Walsh if the social worker who would run the program has had any similar past experience, and Walsh said she did not. Grey suggested perhaps Walsh might act as a mentor "the first time out," noting it may be helpful to the program and the students participating in it.
Walsh said he planned to participate in that first session, review any notes the social worker takes and offer feedback.
Director Alexa Schweikert said she largely had concerns about the referral process, and Walsh said the referrals do not always have to come from teachers — they can also come from parents, or the students themselves.
After some additional discussion, on a motion from Director David Ferguson, the board agreed to take the idea before the district's Drop-out Prevention Committee for further consideration.
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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