Youth Substance Abuse: S.C. Corrections Organizations Launch Joint Prevention Effort
Hampton, George, Jr., Corrections Today
In South Carolina, like the rest of the United States, crimes committed by adolescents have escalated sharply over the past several years.
Criminal justice agencies, judges, educators, religious leaders, concerned citizens and parents are unsure of what to do about this growing problem. State and local officials all over the country have convened summits, established committees, applied for grants and launched studies to determine how to combat the problem of juvenile crime.
One important part of the solution is to reduce substance abuse rates among youths. Researchers know that substance abuse and violence are closely linked: Certain psychological states are associated with both, including negative attitudes toward school, poor student-teacher relationships, family incohesiveness, negative social values, rebelliousness and low self-esteem.
Employees from South Carolina's corrections and juvenile justice departments have joined forces with the South Carolina Correctional Association to help stem youth violence through substance abuse prevention. They are presenting the "I'm Special" alcohol and drug abuse prevention program to youths in public schools, churches and community organizations.
"I'm Special" was adapted from a similar program developed by the Drag Education Center in Charlotte, N.C., in the mid-1970s. It was revised in the 1980s and again in 1992 to add a psycho-social model of prevention and an emphasis on healthy living. South Carolina corrections officials were introduced to the program by the Junior League of Columbia, S.C., at the request of the South Carolina Correctional Association's Crime Prevention Committee.
The program's primary objectives are to develop and nurture the sense of self-worth and uniqueness of third- and fourth-grade students. The program does this in two ways. First, it sends a clear and consistent message to children not to use drugs. The program also teaches skills for healthy living, good decision making and group interaction and presents age-appropriate drug information. Students learn that every person is special, and also to identify what is important to them and others, to be aware of and able to handle their feelings and to be sensitive to one another's feelings.
The "I'm Special" curriculum is presented in eight one-hour sessions. Instructors begin the initial session by giving an overview of the program and explaining the ground rules. Students must agree to make and keep promises, not criticize their classmates, listen when others talk, be attentive and raise their hands.
A program manual defines goals for each session and provides lists of suggested background materials, activities and discussion questions. For example, the goals of session one are to "set promises of how we will act while we are together" and to "get to know each other in a new, fun way."
The suggested activity for the first goal is a promise exercise. The exercise requires that students and the instructor brainstorm about classroom behaviors that detract from learning and those that allow learning. Students then break into small groups and use the helpful behaviors list as a guide to identify promises the whole class can make. Each group shares its list with the class and the instructor guides the class in choosing three to five promises that must be kept for the duration of the program. For example, a promise might be: We will always treat each other with respect.
For goal two, one of the suggested activities is having each student make a "This Is Me" collage that depicts his or her interests, hobbies and favorite things.
Discussion questions for session one include: What was the biggest promise you made today? What was the most important thing you learned about yourself or someone else today? When you go home, what are you going to say about the "I'm Special" program?
The first six sessions focus on students' feelings, uniqueness, decision-making abilities and teamwork skills. …