Pubdate: Wed, 17 Oct 2001
Source: Coast Reporter (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001, Coast Reporter
Author: Neville Judd (editor)


Abstinence programs such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and HEAT
(Help Encourage Awareness Training) have been influential in the way drug
health education is delivered in schools.

This year though, the DARE program, administered by the RCMP, will run in
only one, as-yet undetermined elementary school, after cuts to RCMP budgets.
HEAT also looks as if it will take on a lower profile. Former organizer
Kathy Morrison, who for several years "drug-proofed" schools using a
high-energy troupe of teenage hip hop dancers and student basketball players
as role models, appears to have left the Coast and has not responded to
emails from the Coast Reporter.

In the meantime, the Higher Knowledge Network, a relatively new group with a
different approach to drug health education, is seeking to assert its
influence. It will be one of the groups attending next Saturday's "Get
Connected" Youth Forum at Elphinstone school.  With its message, "Just say
know," the publicly funded group supported by some local businesses and the
Chatelech-Sechelt Community School, believes that teaching youth abstinence
alone does not help those children already using drugs, and others who are
thinking about it.

Coordinators Ainsley Dyck, Sandra Karpetas and Sijay MacDonald offer
workshops tailored to students of all ages and stress that their message is
not opposed to abstinence programs, such as those espoused by DARE and HEAT.
"The abstinence message works for a number of students, but there will
always be other students who choose to use," says MacDonald. "Our workshops
are designed to open the dialogue so that they feel okay talking about it."

In workshops, youth set the agenda while HKN steers the discussion. If youth
are going to use drugs, HKN says it will tell them how to keep from getting
hurt.  "It doesn't have to be about drugs," says Karpetas. "It's about
positive, healthy lifestyles. We don't necessarily have information as a
message, we are not presenting facts as much as we are telling them to get
informed and perhaps opening avenues of information they may not have known

It can also mean breaking out of a classroom setting and hosting all-age
parties at a school (as it did at Chatelech Secondary earlier this year) or
staging theatresports to encourage participation and dialogue. HKN is
currently doing the rounds of the Coast's schools, meeting with principals
and parent advisory councils, including those of elementary schools, where
the group believes its workshop format could also be applied.

"Everyone has indicated an interest in the project. People are cautious and
that is easily understood," says Dyck. "We see that as a great opportunity
to answer questions and build bridges."

Last month, the group met Chatelech principal Jim McGowan. Like any
principal, McGowan is acutely aware of the sensitivity over drugs and drug
health education. Compared with admitting an outside group like the RCMP to
deliver DARE's abstinence message, the prospect of inviting a relatively new
group like Higher Knowledge Network into the classroom is potentially
divisive.   "It's my responsibility and it helps to know what the group's
agenda is first," says McGowan. "You need to meet with the people first and
talk to the parent advisory council."

"If you tell me legalization of marijuana is your ultimate agenda then
you're not to going to come."

McGowan said he asked HKN how it would present information without bias and
was impressed with the group's answer.   "They said they tried to point out
[to students] what sources the information came from, and you can't ask for
much more than that."

That's why the emphasis is on encouraging youth to seek out information for
themselves, says MacDonald.   "The issue of what is information is part of
the dialogue because there is bias in information and in some ways bias is
unavoidable. It's up to the individual to find what works for them."

Chatelech's Career and Personal Programming coordinator Clint Fox says the
school will likely invite the Higher Knowledge Network to set up an
information booth at a school dance, as it did during the last school year.
"It was set up on an informal basis and the group gave out information on
drug and alcohol use," says Fox. "It's possible that Higher Knowledge
Network's use of theatresports could be incorporated into a drama class to
develop drug information in a presentation that students could then pass on
to other students."

While Higher Knowledge Network hopes to convince high schools of the value
of their workshops, the group might have a tougher time persuading
elementary schools. "I can understand where the Higher Knowledge Network
people are coming from, but I think they are more appropriate for older
students," says Halfmoon Bay Elementary principal John Lussier. "I have
never met them and I would need to listen to their message and run it by
teachers and parents. "There is flexibility in the curriculum but our
primary message to kids is abstinence - that will protect you more than
anything else will."

Sechelt Elementary principal Kerry Mahlman agrees.   "I don't think it's
possible to overexpose children to [drug health education]," says Mahlman.
"They're exposed to the problem every day.

"Can they be overwhelmed? That's my job, to have finesse and timing to make
sure they are not being bombarded, to acknowledge what they can deal with at
what age. "The Higher Knowledge Network is providing thinking skills and
strategies to have under the belt but not at an elementary school level-it's
more adolescent information. "It's not that I would never see them as
invitees. They just seem to be more appropriate towards older students."

Ultimately, teachers, principals and health officials agree that the more
varied the mix of approaches to drug health education, the better prepared
students will be.   "Harm reduction and abstinence go hand in hand," says
Coast Garibaldi medical health officer, Paul Martiquet. "There is room for
both messages, even in elementary schools, where we know youth are indulging
in risk-taking behaviour.

"Youth forums are the way to go and there is a lot of positive energy
surrounding this issue that bodes well for the future. "It's important that
youth can react to the data, establish what it means to them and identify
the issues they believe the community can help address." Youth will be doing
just that next Saturday at Elphinstone Secondary. 

MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk