San Diego — As schools across America enter the holiday season, the opioid epidemic stands at an all-time high. Opioid overdoses are driving a decline in U.S. life expectancy, according to the CDC. Because nine out of 10 addictions begin in the teenage years, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teachers are in a strong position to make a difference.
To support educators, administrators and after-school leaders who are firming up lessons and activities before the holidays and open to incorporating drug prevention curriculum, today, the national nonprofit Natural High announced the “Top Five Ways Teachers are Gifting Health” in their classrooms, schools and communities.
The “Top Five Ways Teachers are Gifting Health” reports stories of teachers steering students away from opioids, through peer role modeling, peer support and building the skills to be resilient. The stories were gathered from teachers and counselors nationally during Red Ribbon Week, when classrooms and after-school programs had a heightened focus on drug prevention.
The “Top Five Ways Teachers are Gifting Health” are:
- Exploring ‘natural highs’ in San Diego. Students in select San Diego YMCA after-school programs are exploring their own ‘natural highs’ and assessing their own resiliency, with the help of free celebrity video stories and free curriculum from Natural High. ‘Natural highs’ are activities that bring the rush of adrenaline and dopamine – like athletics, dance, creativity, nature and art – without the life-threatening effects of drugs or alcohol. Students are also creating opioid public service announcements to share in their communities.
- Reaching out to struggling fellow students in Michigan. High school students in Grand Traverse County, Mich. have been engaging each other on how they can reach out to other classmates who may be struggling. “I feel like it’s better when it comes from a student because we are in that group,” said Khatorian, a student who attends Traverse City Central High School, as reported by Up North Live news. The effort to empower students to support one another away from drugs and alcohol is called Students Together Against Negative Decisions, or S.T.A.N.D., and is launching in all Grand Traverse County high schools.
- Holding high schoolers up as role models in North Carolina. Seniors from Jordan Matthews High School in North Carolina presented their personal ‘natural highs’ to young elementary students to inspire good decision-making during a pep rally at the high schoolers’ alma mater, Silk Hope School, a pre-K to eighth grade school.
- Rallying in Idaho’s state capital. Hundreds of young people from Treasure Valley, Idaho joined state and city officials at a rally on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol in October to encourage other students to live drug-free and pursue their natural highs, whether that’s sports, activities, art, or, in this case, advocating publicly.
- Using celebrity storytellers in and out of traditional classes in Massachusetts. Jamie Armin, who just completed 34 years teaching health education, has used Natural High since 2004, not just in class, but also in advisories and after-school. Armin, who was most recently at Tantasqua Regional Junior High, Mass. reports that “Natural High storytellers empower teens to take positive risks and encourage student leadership.”
“It is heartening to see this flurry of educator initiatives at the classroom, school and community levels,” said Gina Morris, Natural High’s executive director, “and so many working hard to change the tide. We hope to make it seamless and easy for educators to integrate these Common Core-aligned lessons into their planning, in whatever way they want.”
Increasingly, teachers are harnessing the power of free nonprofit educational resources like those from Natural High, the National Family Partnership and others to halt the opioid epidemic trend early. For example, to capture student attention onto what may be a life-saving topic, educators employ the voices of celebrities youngsters look up, provided through free Natural High videos.
One such person is Bethany Hamilton, a popular, award-winning pro surfer who lost an arm to a shark, and yet, incredibly, still manages to surf competitively. In her video, Hamilton talks directly to students about how it broke her heart to watch a friend and fellow competitor succumb to drugs: “I wanted to surf like her,” she said. “I saw her lose that love, passion and natural ability.”
Stories like this, where celebrities inspire students by sharing major hurdles they have overcome without turning to drugs or alcohol, are available from dozens of stars from all corners of sports, entertainment and the arts, along with free Common Core-aligned curriculum.
Based in San Diego, Natural High was launched in 1994 (originally as the Sundt Memorial Foundation), by businessman and avid surfer Jon Sundt, after Sundt lost two brothers to drug addiction. Natural High is supported by generous donors and celebrities in entertainment, arts and sports.