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Most… By raise of hands

In Community, Community Contributors by OC Monitor Staff

**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor pilot project in collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

By Angie Hudnall / OC Monitor Community Contributor

Most 13-year-old students have been exposed to alcohol, use of drugs, sex and suicide.

Every year at Ohio County Middle School, the eighth graders are involved in a program called Truth & Consequences. Members of the community, parents and teachers all work together on this very organized event to educate our local teens. Truth & Consequences is a program about making good choices by exposing them to real life situations in a safe setting.

The students have a morning session and afternoon session. Each session is designed for either the personal experience or that third-party experience as an outsider. Both ways really drive home the importance of making good choices. They are taught positive coping skills and sources of support. These are things I still see grown adults needing help with.

For one of the third-party experiences, students watched a video of a mother tell her story of how she did not do drugs, never was around it and thought it was not her problem until her daughter spent the night with a friend. The friend’s mother had used meth that night and took the girls out after midnight, ending up in a terrible crash killing them all.

Drugs are everyone’s problem.

The session with a personal experience will start in the gymnasium, where they are handed a real life teen scenario and partnered with their parent or a volunteer parent. The two will read the situation and discuss. Then they will go visit the three professionals associated with their given story.

Examples could include: They are at a party and something goes wrong where they are exposed to underage drinking, drugs, or sex. Or they are put in a position of being in the middle of one of these situations and get caught. And in settings where they, or a friend, die by suicide or because of drugs or alcohol.

Reading and talking about the examples is only part of their experience. However, to sit down and talk to the real principal, police officer, jailer, judge, as if this is really happening to you, is an eye-opening learning event for them.

The students get a chance to take part in a group debriefing for questions. My experience with this was phenomenal. The students would come in giggling, sharing their assigned scenarios with their friends thankful none of this was real.

As the debriefer with their teachers, we listened to all who wanted to share their experience with the class, read off their situation and what impressed them about their community person discussion. All were relieved it was make-believe. Many were impressed by the jailer, the judge and the funeral director. Rightly so, these three are not necessarily people many are exposed to, much less a young teen.

Remember, of course, these are eighth graders at about 13 years of age. Maybe we think, a young teen like this may have been exposed to a bit of these kinds of problems but not much.. Right?

For example, my youngest son is a young teen. I certainly do not think of him having discussions with his peers about drinking alcohol, doing drugs, having sex or thinking about suicide.

As a situation was read or brought up, we discussed it in our safe setting in a way they could easily relate. This set up for some honest responses.

I asked about these topics:

  • Suffered from a loss of support like divorce
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Second hand smoke
  • Drinks alcohol or exposed
  • Does drugs or exposed
  • A teen having sex or pregnant
  • Have said or have heard someone say they wished they were dead.

By raise of hands:

  • Most have suffered from losing a source of support from divorce.
  • Most are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Most are exposed to alcohol.
  • Most are exposed to drugs.
  • Most are exposed to sex.
  • Most know a pregnant teen.
  • Most have overheard someone say they wished they were dead.

And, most felt it affected their lives.

Yeah, I was blown away too. Most surprising was the teens were willing to tell what has happened to them. Things no one knew, but how their strength, endurance and resilience has seen them through.

We discussed how the teens can help each other as sources of support, as well as using their teachers, counselors, coaches, principals and people of the community, for we are all here for them.

We discussed positive coping skills and staying away from negative ones. How to talk to their parents when problems come up. And more importantly, when parents say no, how to handle that and how to talk to their parents instead of getting angry and doing something they would regret.

I applaud the service of our teacher’s workforce which help our teens daily with their education and being their sources of strength.

All of them were 8th graders.

All of them attend OCMS.

All of them are Real.

Do you want to help be a resource, volunteer your time or to learn more?

One place you can go is to an ASAP meeting, Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention. You can email me for more information at [email protected]

You can volunteer in events with Ohio County Cooperative Extension Office. Call 270-298-7441.

There are many ways to help, call your local school and volunteer in their events.

Help clean up a local park, donate a new basketball goal, or organize an event. For Cromwell Ballpark, call 270-991-8663.

Be a part of young lives, they are your future.

Angie Hudnall

Angie Hudnall lives in Cromwell, Ky., and is a health improvement nurse for Perdue Farms. She has been a registered nurse for 18 years in long-term care, physical rehab, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and home health.

Find out more about our Community Contributors here.

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