Sixth-graders throughout the county are beginning a new curriculum called Positive Action, facilitated by the community board of The Right Path for Washington County. Lessons are intended to combat academic and social risk factors and encourage healthy youth development. Belpre Middle School sixth-grader Sarah Robinson said she's learning ways to stay healthy and confident - and she's passing it on. "There's a little boy who lives next door to me who's in the second grade," said Robinson, 11. "He looks up to me like a sister so I tell him everything I'm learning. I told him to stay away from drugs."
The Positive Action program has been in place for five weeks at Belpre Middle School and educators say they are already seeing positive changes in students. All schools in the county will be taking part on the program. In Belpre, the district has been putting the program into action with about 70 of the Positive Action lessons already taught at the Belpre Middle School. "Kids' attitudes are changing, and they're much more aware," said Donna Cleland, a sixth-grade teacher in Belpre. "These are things they weren't learning at this capacity. The information they had picked up on it was from word of mouth and from friends."
Already, students in Belpre have learned about self-concept, drugs and alcohol and making decisions. They have spun around 20 times and then tried to write their names on the chalkboard in order to see the effect alcohol has on the equilibrium and run up and down the steps while breathing through a straw to feel the effects of decreased lung capacity due to smoking. "We were gasping for breath," said Tiffany Selbe, 11, a sixth-grader at Belpre Middle School. "We've learned that drugs and smoking and drinking is pretty much like suicide to us." Sixth-graders were targeted for Positive Action because it is a crucial time in their development, said Right Path Coordinator Cathy Harper. "We're planting all these seeds with these lessons," Harper said. "The school districts have really embraced it and they feel like it's working already. We just have to keep it going." The implementation of the program comes about halfway through the Right Path's three-year, $525,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.
County middle school students were surveyed in 2003 about what protective factors, such as a belief in a moral order, were in place and what risk factors, including drug use, violence and academic failure, were most prevalent. Students will be surveyed again at the end of the grant cycle to determine if the program has made a difference, said Harper.
Students in Belpre are given special rewards at the end of each month if they have a limited number of behavioral problems, which those who are part of the program call "flub-ups." Many are also learning how to receive rewards through everyday behavior. "We've learned that there are positive and negative cycles and you choose them," said Robinson. "If you give a positive comment, you'll get one back but if you give a negative comment, you might get one back and it might lead to a fight."
Positive Action also focuses on parental involvement and offers ways that parents can teach their children lessons at home. The classroom lessons have already opened up communication in the Robinson home, according to Sarah. "After we started this, I started talking to Mom and Dad more about drugs and other things," she said. The 25-minute lessons are taught at least three days a week in Cleland's classroom. "My class loves it," Cleland said. "They come in every day and ask what we'll be doing later. The kids are talking about it." They're also hoping the program grows and continues in the area, said Selbe. "We hope it sticks around," she said. "It could still be helping children by the time we're all grown up."