Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in Wisconsin Public Schools
Fredisdorf, Mark, Journal of School Health
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in Wisconsin Public Schools
ABSTRACT: This survey assessed the status of Wisconsin public school district programs designed to
prevent alcohol and other drug related problems among students. The assessment involved surveying
prevention program directors of 102 school districts that received grants ffor prevention
initiatives since 1981. Most districts (70%) implemented programs at the elementary, middle, and
senior high school levels. Typical program strategies involved combining information dissemination
with refusal skill and self-concept development. School programs predominatly were school-based
and did not systematically involve community members or agencies. The greatest obstacles to
providing effective prevention services include high rates of alcohol and other drug use in homes
and communities, denial of alcohol and other drug related problems among students, parents, and
community members, and lack of staff time for prevention activities. Project directors indicated a
need for schools to initiate greater involvement of parents, nonschool alcohol and drug abuse
prevention agencies, and other community organizations in school efforts. (J Sch Health
A growing body of research indicates certain prevention techniques can be successful in reducing substance use. However, the degree to which new research findings have translated into practice is unclear. During the past three decades, schools have attempted several approaches to ameliorate this social problem. Health teachers, counselors, and other school staff undertaking this responsibility during the 1960s largely provided information about alcohol and other drugs and used scare tactics to deter students from substance use. Strategies of the 1970s focused more on teaching students personal skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and developing positive health self-concepts. Despite well-intended efforts, levels of alcohol and other drug use among young people have shown no substantial reductions over time.
Recently, new alcohol and other drug prevention programs have emerged. This third wave of strategies to curbing substance use is, in part, a combination of information giving and personal skills development approaches. Disseminating accurate information, teaching peer refusal skills, and promoting positive health-related attitudes and self-concepts, represent essential components that must be integrated into a successful program. Such programs targeted at preventing tobacco use produced a 50% to 75% reduction in onset of smoking. Important features of successful smoking prevention programs include a focus on 1) short-term, primarily social consequences important to the target audience, 2) audience awareness of overt and covert pressures to smoke, 3) attitudinal inoculation to those pressures, 4) high levels of audience participation, and 5) role playing and other classroom activities to practice behaviors. Further, the skills students learn from such programs help them avoid the use of other gateway drugs such as alcohol and marijuana.
Research also suggests that providing information about alcohol and other drugs and teaching resistance skills should be part of a comprehensive K-12 health education program integrating alcohol and other drugs with related topics such as teen pregnancy, suicide, and dropping out. When possible, schools need to involve families, community groups, and the media in prevention efforts. Despite new breakthroughs in prevention research, elementary, middle, and senior high schools face limits to developing alcohol and other drug prevention programs. Scarce financial resources, lack of staff interest and expertise, and community resistance impede school efforts to address substance use. This survey assessed the status of school alcohol and other drug prevention programs in Wisconsin and offered recommendations for improvements within the context of new and promising research.
PLANNING THE SURVEY
One hundred two Wisconsin school districts were selected to participate in the survey because each had received one or more state grants for alcohol and other drug prevention programming since the 1980-1981 school year. Grants ranged from $4,750 to $50,000; the average grant was $15,000. Most districts received grants for two consecutive years. Grant recipients represent a cross-section of rural, urban, and suburban districts. The survey addressed four major questions:
1) What school-based and combined school/community-based efforts are being made to reduce alcohol and other drug-related problems?
2) What alcohol and other drug prevention efforts do schools desire to emphasize to a greater degree?
3) What factors inhibit school alcohol and other drug prevention efforts?
4) What assistance would be most helpful to schools to facilitate alcohol and other drug prevention efforts?
A survey was developed to assess the perceptions of alcohol and other drug program administrators relating to the four questions. Questionnaires were mailed to the designated alcohol and other drug prevention program administrator in each school district. The response rate was 81%.
RESPONSE TO THE SURVEY
Current Prevention Efforts
More than 70% of districts offer prevention programs at the elementary, middle/junior high, and senior high school levels. A slightly higher emphasis on prevention programs typically exists at the middle/junior high school level. School staff most closely involved with alcohol and other drug prevention efforts include counselors, classroom teachers, health education coordinators, school psychologists, and principals. Administrative support and involvement exists in most school districts. A strong emphasis is placed on training staff prior to direct participation in alcohol and other drug prevention programs. This emphasis involves inservice for all staff members to inform them about school district prevention programs in addition to training staff who directly serve students in this capacity.
Nonschool staff participants include parents, law enforcement officials, community alcohol and other drug prevention agency staff, and school board members. Half of the prevention project respondents reported at least one parent actively involved in their programs, though less than 20% of the districts have formed parent/school/community alcohol and other drug prevention planning or advisory councils.
Prevention efforts consist largely of alcohol and other drug prevention instruction, including disseminating information to students and parents, teaching peer refusal and decision-making skills, and developing positive student self-concepts. Presentations to students by community professionals or other nonschool staff, and by other students are additional components of many prevention programs. These activities occur in elementary school classrooms, health education classes, and driver education classes. To a lesser extent, alcohol and other drug prevention activities take place in biology, home economics, and social studies classes. Groups such as Students Against Driving Drunk exist in less than 25% of responding school districts though comments volunteered by project directors indicate formation of these groups is increasing. Five percent of districts conduct an alcohol and other drug prevention "Awareness Week" during which several of the aforementioned activities are emphasized.
Considerable variation exists in curricular approaches among respondents. Twenty-seven percent use a purchased curriculum, 32% use a school-developed curriculum, and 37% use a combination of the two. Four percent of respondents did not indicate the curriculum used. The most commonly used purchased curriculum is "Here's Looking at You Two" or "Here's Looking at You 2000," followed closely by the "Cambridge and Sommerville Program for Alcoholism Rehabilitation (CASPAR)." Other commercially developed curricula used by districts include "Quest," "Project Charlie," and "Starting Early."
Dissemination of information about alcohol and other drug prevention to parents is a common practice. The information often includes pamphlets and booklets about actions that parents can take to help prevent alcohol and other drug use among their children. Training sessions and inservices for parents or other community members are not emphasized.
Desired Prevention Efforts
On the desired emphasis scale, project directors ranked administrative support for prevention programs the highest, further substantiating the importance of administrative support to program success. With administrative support, an increase in elementary school, middle/junior high, and senior high school alcohol and other drug instruction also was strongly supported. Project directors believe essential program components should include dissemination of alcohol and other drug information to students, teaching of peer refusal skills, availability of advisement by school staff, and creation of peer groups such as "Just Say No" groups. Staff training prior to teaching alcohol and other drug prevention-related subject matter and systematic evaluation of alcohol and other drug prevention programs are two additional activities project directors believe should receive more attention.
Project directors expressed a desire to increase systematic parental involvement in alcohol and other drug prevention efforts. Respondents indicated well-defined procedures were needed to guide parent participation. Cooperative efforts with public or private community agencies also received support, strengthening the contention that parental/community involvement fosters school efforts to prevent alcohol and other drug-related problems. Project directors indicated measures are being taken by school districts to garner outside support for alcohol and other drug prevention programs, but further initiatives are needed to better utilize available nonschool resources.
Prevention project directors indicated that high rates of alcohol use in the community and at home present the greatest obstacles to reducing alcohol and other drug-related problems among students. Lack of school staff time for prevention instruction, planning, and program evaluation was the second most-mentioned obstacle. Many respondents expressed a need for more funding to release staff for prevention-related activities. Project directors and other school staff typically have areas of responsibility in addition to providing alcohol and other drug prevention services.
Another major inhibiting factor involved parent, student, and community denial of problems related to alcohol and other drug use. However, lack of support for alcohol and other drug prevention programs among these same groups was not viewed as a major obstacle to providing services. Thus, though students, parents, and community members may tend to deny the existence of alcohol and other drug-related problems, they generally have supported school efforts to reduce such problems. Lack of appropriate staff training poses another major inhibiting factor. Project directors expressed a need to increase the number of workshops, inservice sessions, and other training activities available to school staff. A strong consensus indicated that not enough school staff have received training in alcohol and other drug use prevention.
Lack of support and involvement from law enforcement personnel, juvenile justice system personnel, general school staff, school board members, and administrative staff have not presented major obstacles in most school districts. Active opposition of community interest groups against alcohol and other drug prevention efforts ranked last of 22 possible inhibiting factors. Respondents expressed difficulty in systematically coordinating school, community, and business/industry programs and resources. Problems were not encountered in building support for alcohol and other drug prevention efforts as much as in coordinating existing human and financial resources to enhance school efforts.
The most common response regarding assistance needed related to staff inservice to increase the quality and quantity of alcohol and other drug instruction. Suggested training topics included program evaluation techniques, curricular approaches, policy development, and revitalization of existing programs. Financial assistance for alcohol and other drug prevention efforts was the second most common response. Of the project directors listing financial assistance, more than one-third specified such assistance should be used for staff release time to develop prevention curricula or other prevention-related tasks.
Several school districts were interested in receiving assistance from outside experts to develop effective strategies for parents and community involvement. Interests ranged from alcohol and other drug information dissemination to elaborate joint school/community alcohol and other drug prevention initiatives. Some districts specified a need to include procedures for parent/community involvement in a school board-approved alcohol and other drug policy.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROGRAM IMPROVEMENT AND POLICY FORMATION
More concerted efforts are needed to develop K-12 comprehensive prevention programs.
Current efforts to reduce alcohol and other drug-related problems through preventive measures are interspersed across all grade levels in many of the surveyed school districts. Alcohol and other drug prevention instruction is typically provided in separate units in elementary, middle/junior high school health classes, and driver education classes. Lapses exist where little, if any, alcohol and other drug prevention instruction is provided. For instance, students in several districts do not receive alcohol and other drug prevention instruction until the seventh or eighth grade, thereby causing concern since successful preventive measures should focus on decision-making skills, peer refusal skills, and self-concept development. These behaviors are most likely learned when instruction begins at a young age and continues throughout a child's education. School districts need to examine the scope and sequence of alcohol and other drug prevention programs to determine if lapses exist from one grade level to another.
Alcohol and other drug prevention instruction needs to be integrated with dropout prevention, suicide prevention, human growth and development education, and related areas.
Alcohol and other drug prevention instruction often is isolated in the overall school program. Alcohol and other drug abuse is one of many factors that may place a child's school and life success at risk. Schools need to combine efforts that address these factors into a comprehensive program to deal with student services issues, thereby reducing fragmentation and more efficiently providing services. One method for combining these related areas is through the Wisconsin Development Guidance Model. The Model offers a structure for providing age- and maturation-appropriate instruction and activities for alcohol and other drug prevention and other pupil service issues.
Technical assistance provided to local school districts should focus on training to increase the number of school staff qualified in alcohol and other drug prevention.
Training could be provided by state agencies or through direct financial assistance to schools. Training topics addressing the expressed needs of school district staff include prevention instruction techniques, curriculum selection and development, program evaluation, strategies for establishing school/community/business linkages, and alcohol and drug policy formation.
School districts need to increase the involvement of community individuals and agencies in alcohol and other drug prevention efforts.
Less than 25% of districts had created school/community alcohol and other drug councils or promoted regularly scheduled alcohol and other drug-free school/community activities. This finding supports a previous study on school efforts to provide services for students at risk of school and life failure. Specifically, the findings indicated most school district efforts to assist children at risk do not directly involve parents, business and industry, and community members. One reason expressed by districts for this slow progress is an absence of well-defined, board-approved alcohol and other drug policies for guiding and promoting collaborative activities with community individuals and agencies. Increasing this type of involvement should be made a priority because districts perceive that nonschool factors present the greatest inhibitors to providing prevention services. Moreover, alcohol and other drug prevention financial and human resources in many communities remain largely untapped by schools.
State and local efforts are needed to assess the impact of alcohol and other drug prevention programs.
Evaluation of prevention programs, with few exceptions, are conducted in a cursory manner. Few school districts emphasize program evaluation, though most districts indicated a high desire to do so. Existing evaluation practices typically focus on student knowledge gains. No districts reported that data on student alcohol and other drug use were systematically collected for evaluation purposes. Thus, considerable uncertainty exists whether alcohol and other drug prevention efforts actually reduce alcohol and other drug use or abuse among students.
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Mark Fredisdorf, PhD, Education Consultant, Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction, GEF 3, Third Floor, 125 S. Webster St., Madison, WI 53707-7841. This article was submitted June 8, 1988, and revised and accepted for publication December 12, 1988.…
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Publication information: Article title: Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in Wisconsin Public Schools. Contributors: Fredisdorf, Mark - Author. Journal title: Journal of School Health. Volume: 59. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 1989. Page number: 21+. © 1999 American School Health Association. COPYRIGHT 1989 Gale Group.
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