A new program designed to keep students off drugs is being created in the Eastport South Manor School District.
The district was prompted to take action following a student survey last spring in which more than half of the district’s high school students indicated that there was a drug and alcohol problem in the district.
In response, district officials this week said they would use federal money to come up with a curriculum to better educate students from kindergarten through the 12th grade about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
“Essentially, what’s happened is we know here in Eastport South Manor, as well as across Long Island, that the high school-age students and younger are involved with drugs and are involved with alcohol,” Superintendent of Schools Mark Nocero said. “What’s even additionally alarming in the last year, is that we’ve had reports that heroin use has increased across Long Island.”
Mr. Nocero, at a Board of Education meeting last Wednesday, October 21, told board members that Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Jennifer Morrison Hart was putting together a committee of educators and administrators to look at what other districts are doing to educate students and to select a curriculum to model at ESM.
Currently, the district offers various programs and events related to drug and alcohol education, but officials hope to centralize prevention education.
Some of the programs already in place include the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program at Eastport Elementary School, which is supervised by the Southampton Town Police Department, and Police Smart at Dayton Avenue Elementary School, similar to DARE, but hosted by the Suffolk County Police. Both programs educate students on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
The schools also have programs in place in the elementary and secondary schools, Dr. Hart said. At the elementary level, students from third to sixth grade are educated on how to make overall healthy nutritional choices through a program called Health Smart, which contains a component on drug prevention. At the secondary level, students take health class in the seventh grade, and a half a credit of health education between ninth and 12th grade, which includes drug education, as well as topics like social, physical and mental health, in addition to nutrition, diseases and first aid.
Additionally, the district creates events throughout its schools to address the issue. This week, the schools completed a red ribbon week, Mr. Nocero said, an event that promotes smart choices about drug use.
“We have a number of programs, but what we want to do is really put together a comprehensive kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum,” Mr. Nocero said.
The search committee is still being formulated, Dr. Hart said. Members will include health teachers, the district’s athletic director, administrators and teachers from the high school and elementary level, social workers and psychologists, Mr. Nocero said. They will be tasked with finding a suitable curriculum for the district, starting with a list of federally-endorsed programs that are eligible for funding. Dr. Hart said the committee will also look to other school districts for examples of successful prevention programs.
“You take your net and try to get as many as you can and you reel it in and figure out which is appropriate for our children,” Dr. Hart said. “The focus is on prevention, always on prevention, and keeping kids safe and keeping kids drug-free.”
Mr. Nocero noted that programs will differ significantly between older high school students and younger elementary school children. At the elementary level, the focus will be on character development and how to say “no” to drugs.
“At the younger ages, you can talk about things like smoking and the damage things like smoking does, Mr. Nocero said. “And you also teach kids at a very young age how to say ‘no’ when something is wrong. Obviously, at a very young age, you’re not going to expose kids to hard drugs, because they can’t even comprehend them. But they understand what it means to put things in your body that are unhealthy.”
At the secondary level, the focus will be more specific on the chemical and biological damage involved with drug and alcohol abuse.
School officials hope to have the program up and running either by spring or the beginning of the next school year.
The Manorville community has recently been marked by an increased number of alcohol and drug abuse cases—specifically, with heroin. Last spring, the Manorville Community Ambulance held a drug awareness night for parents whose children were dealing with the problem. According to the company’s statistics, the ambulance corps responded to 24 overdose cases last year—a majority of which involved young people.
Dr. Hart said it was too early to gauge the cost to implement the program, but noted that the district already receives federal funding for drug education. This year, the district received $10,000 under the Title IV, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, and expects similar funding next year.
But whatever the cost, Mr. Nocero said the district was committed to the program.
“Whatever the cost is going to be, I think every nickel of it is worth it. Like I said, it’s just too important of a subject,” he said.
School Board President Vincent Sweeney noted that implementing the program was one of the board’s goals for the year.
“One of the priorities that we as a board recognized was we wanted to put together a program that would identify any drug related issues in the school and then what would be in place to address those issues,” Mr. Sweeney said.
Mr. Nocero said that it was imperative to implement the program in order to save children from the perils of drug and alcohol abuse.
“Kids die from this stuff,” the superintendent said. “We’re talking about a life and death issue. Our children are dying from these things. We’ve got to do everything possible and everything in our power to give them the tools to stay away from these killers.”