Grant aims to curb substance abuse, violence among children

JDHS survey shows pot, alcohol use has fallen, but violence has risen

Posted: Friday, October 22, 2004

A $2.88 million grant will help Juneau schools broadly address substance abuse and violence.

"It's a systemic focus that looks at children, pre-school to the end of high school, trying to set up a whole system for the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug use and violence," said Kelly Tonsmeire, director of the Alaska Staff Development Network, a member of the partnership that will spend the grant.

Bernie Sorenson, the Juneau School District assistant superintendent, said the result should be "a stronger community knowledge base and system for how we deal with and prevent aggression and prejudice issues and dating violence and some of the violence we're dealing with in our schools."

The number of Juneau-Douglas High School students who have ever used alcohol or marijuana has fallen by about 10 percentage points in the past three years, according to a state survey last year. The community has offered more treatment for youths in that period.

But an increasing number of students say their boyfriends or girlfriends have intentionally hurt them physically, and more say they have thought about killing themselves. The grant application also noted the flare-up of racial incidents at JDHS last school year.

The grant for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, a school-based approach to public health, is worth about $960,000 a year for three years. It is a combined program of the federal departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services.

Spending the grant locally is the Juneau Effective Prevention Project, a collaboration of the school district, Tlingit-Haida Central Council, social service agencies and law enforcement agencies.

The grant continues and expands three years of work by JEPP, which had been funded by much smaller grants.

The project so far has helped the school district develop its health and counseling curricula, and used member agencies to offer mental health services at every school and substance-abuse services in the middle schools and high school.

The grant would expand therapeutic services into violence prevention and all the way down to pre-school children.

The project "repositions human resources in an effective and efficient way," and it captures funds, said David Moore, the outgoing JEPP project director.

He is the associate director of the Center for the Study and Teaching of At-Risk Students at the University of Washington, which will evaluate the latest grant's effectiveness.

The grant will train teachers, counselors, community volunteers, agency staff and adult family members in a curriculum to prevent substance use and violence, including violence stemming from prejudice.

JDHS students, during a "day of listening" last school year provoked by racial issues, said cliques can lead to tension and conflict.

"We've got to break kids up into randomly assigned groups (for the prevention curriculum)," Moore said. "The high school itself has got to do what the kids can't do - which is bring them out of their cliques and groups."

The grant also will help JEPP become a Communities in Schools organization, a private, nonprofit status that gives donors more confidence that the project will continue.

Nearly all of the grant goes toward personnel costs.

Almost half will be spent on salaries, benefits and travel for a full-time project director, an administrative assistant, a school counselor, a certified teacher and extra pay for training teachers after regular hours.

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