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WUSD receives substance abuse prevention grant earns Quality Plus rating

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — In response to suggestions for more drug prevention programs at Williams Unified School District, administrators applied for and received a grant from the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF ) for Healthy Families – Healthy Youth, a substance abuse prevention pilot program for seventh grade youth and their families.

Williams Elementary-Middle School (WEMS) will host the workshop Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the WEMS cafeteria and Parenteau Auditorium.

The “Healthy Families – Healthy Youth” pilot program is a back-to-school night of education funded through the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration Substance Abuse Prevention Block Grant. The program will take place after a regular school day and will provide families with age-appropriate substance abuse education and the opportunity to develop a family substance abuse prevention plan.

The pilot program will run in all 15 counties throughout the month of September, offering early education and proven best practices across the state of Arizona. The governor’s office chose one school from each county to receive a grant for the program.

GOYFF, in partnership with Pima Prevention Partnership and Cox Communications, created the program with input from Arizona based substance use prevention and addiction professional and people in recovery to ensure up-to-date reliable information since youth substance is constantly changing as new drugs, devices, and culture change.

“We are really excited about this program,” said program coordinator and WEMS School Nurse Amber McMahon. “It’s a completely scripted program, we received training in August to ensure we use it correctly.”

The program is in a back-to-school night format and will be conducted in a 2.5-hour timeframe outside the regular school day. McMahon said the workshop is designed for seventh graders and their parents or other trusted adults.

There will be several components to the program which include a welcome and orientation, a break-out session where students are separated from adults, and then a final session where adults and youth can discuss what they have learned.

During the youth session, students will discuss common pressures leading to substance use, effective ways to lessen their stress without using drugs or alcohol, and ways to say ‘no’. Youth will also prepare for the family session by identifying low-cost and accessible individual and family activities to do as a way to build family bonds and avoid substance abuse.

Adults will learn about current drugs and their effects, signs of youth substance use, and strategies for preventing first substance use. The adult session is specifically designed to prepare participants to have a conversation with their children and complete a prevention plan together. The adult session will cover the signs of drug abuse and adults will learn about what drugs are common with youth today and how they hide it.

“The program gives tips to look for such as drugs in eye drops,” McMahon said. “There also is cannabis oil made into chap stick. There are all kinds of sneaky ways they do things now.”

According to GOYFF, the average age when Arizona youth begin to use an addictive substance is now 13 years old — and, with 90 percent of addicts starting to smoke, drink or use other drugs prior to age 18, it is clear that that early invention and education is a must.

“The best way to treat addiction is to get ahead of the problem and prevent it,” Gov. Ducey said. “Bringing families together and educating them about the realities of substance abuse is one of the best ways to do that.”

During the final session, adults and youth will come together to eat dinner and engage in family conversation. They will use the dialogue and tools obtained during their respective sessions to help them formulate a family substance use prevention plan. The dinner is being catered by Doc Holidays and will include a dessert by the Williams High School culinary class.

“We’re really trying to get the participation,” McMahon said. “We don’t want parents to have to worry about dinner.”

McMahon said there will also be other incentives to attend the program. She said parents will receive a $10 gas card and students will get t-shirts and McDonald’s gift cards.

“We are also doing a gender war,” McMahon said. “If more girls show up than boys they will get a pizza party and movie.

Although the program is designed for adults and seventh graders, the workshop will have childcare for those who have other children that need to attend.

McMahon said she is hoping to see a high number of participants so the school can receive the funding again next year.

“It’s basically a data driven program and because it’s a pilot program we want it to be successful,” she said.

The school will use any remaining money from the grant to do continuation programs throughout the school year. They hope to provide assemblies and speakers to the school to address the other grades in the school.

“Seventh grade is the common first age for use,” said WEMS Student Services Director Maya Caldwell. “But the neat thing is this really started us off to talking about things for sixth and eighth grades. We want to stagger the education somehow. We’re going to try to do prevention here before they move up to high school.”

McMahon said she hopes to see every seventh grader and their parents or guardians at the workshop.

“One thing is clear: we must prevent the first use,” said Debbie Moak, director of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family. “Substance abuse is a serious and growing problem and deserves to be treated as such. This pilot program is one of the many steps we’re taking to let people know that they don’t have to fight addiction alone.”

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