As headlines on heroin addiction splash across the media—heightening parents’ fears and concerns on how to protect their children—there’s one centralized place where parents can turn for information and resources on how to keep their children safe.
Massapequa Takes Action (MTA) is a group that connects school, parents and community to receive the education needed to better guide children away from risky behaviors. Made up of PTA members, YES Community Counseling Center members and school professionals, the group also educates students about the dangers of risky behaviors through age-appropriate programs and empowers students with strong anti-drug activities and clubs that promote pro-social behaviors.
“Research tells us over and over again that the most effective way to respond to drug use and abuse is to develop a very comprehensive prevention approach,” said Jamie Bogenshutz, Executive Director of YES Community Counseling Center, the state’s licensed outpatient drug treatment provider for the community. “That has been the foundation upon which MTA was created. Programs are developed and implemented that allow for parent, school and community partnerships. When all three are working together, we reduce the risks for our children and strengthen our community.”
MTA-implemented programs take place at every level in the district. At the elementary level, initiatives such as “Second Step” and “Too Good for Drugs,” which focus on making good choices, are now being expanded into other elementary grade levels to reinforce the healthy lifestyle message. MTA also initiated the idea of having a social worker travel between the six elementary schools during the Summer Recreation program to provide counseling and crisis intervention to students.
One informative program for parents of children in grades 7-12 was a six-week Active Parenting Program that began on Nov. 6 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Berner Middle School. The free program, started by MTA and run by district social workers, focused on listening and communication skills, effective parenting, substance abuse and other topics. This program is also offered all year round at YES Community Counseling Center and is also conducted for parents of elementary school children to ensure that every parent has access to this program.
For middle school students, MTA initiated the BRAVE Program (Bully Reduction Anti-Violence Education Program) in coordination with social workers and the Nassau County Health Department. The program sensitizes seventh graders and helps them understand the negative impacts of bullying, which can lead to at-risk behaviors. Presentations of “Ryan’s Story” by renowned speaker John Halligan, whose son, Ryan, made headlines when he committed suicide due to the bullying he experienced while attending a middle school in Vermont, will be presented to seventh and eighth-grade students on Dec. 8. This year students will also make a connection to the social-emotional learning curriculum that staff has developed around the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio, a story about a 10-year-old boy with facial differences and his experience attending public school for the first time.
Many high school students at both Ames and Main campuses have embraced MTA-sponsored pro-social initiatives that encourage students to help others rise above risky behavior. One such program is the Red Watch Band program, which trains an average of 60 students in identifying and responding to alcohol-related emergencies to help curb alcohol-related accidents among young adults. Another is the Chief’s Challenge Club, a group of like-minded students motivated toward improving school culture. Through a variety of projects and activities, students gain unique skills needed to reach out and fulfill their mission to “Help Other People Every Day” (H.O.P.E).
In an effort to arm parents with more information about substance abuse, MTA kicked off the school year by hosting a community forum at the high school, which consisted of a panel of experts in health care, law enforcement and social work and provided a helpful Q&A session for participants.
“We cannot stress enough the importance of the whole community taking ownership of the problems facing our youth today and to share in the responsibility of equipping them with the tools they need to lead healthy, drug-free lives,” said Diane Marascia, social worker at Massapequa High School and MTA committee member. “Heroin may be in the headlines, but the top substance abuse issues among teens are still marijuana and alcohol. These are the kids that are filling the rehab facilities.”
Marascia also stressed that the best way for the program to be successful is through community involvement, heightened awareness and educating parents about the dangers to minimize risk.
“If parents came to just one program, we can potentially save a child from going down the wrong path, and that child could be yours,” she said.
For those who can’t make any of the meetings, Massapequa urges all parents to make it a point to sit down and talk to their kids about the dangers of drug and substance use and abuse.
Visit MTA under the “community” tab on the district website at www.msd.k12.ny.us for more tips about talking to children about drugs, links to substance abuse websites and resources and information about upcoming programs to attend.