Washington County, Va., Gets Grant to Help Curb Teen Smoking
ABINGDON -- Most local kids who smoke picked up the habit before they became teenagers, according to a survey by the Washington County Office on Youth.
Workers from five county agencies have joined forces in an effort to change that.
The Office on Youth, the county Sheriff's Office and the county school system teamed with Highlands Community Services and Emory & Henry College to attain grant money for programs to help keep youths from smoking and using drugs.
"We're trying to reach students in the younger grades," said Ernie Braganza, director of the Office on Youth.
He wrote a grant proposal on behalf of all five organizations involved. It sought money from the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation, which works to prevent youth tobacco use.
The foundation granted the request and awarded the county partnership $104,838, which Braganza said will go toward several programs geared toward curbing substance abuse among elementary and middle-school students.
A "Life Skills" program, coordinated by the county Sheriff's Office, addresses drug use with sixth- and seventh-graders in the county's four middle schools.
Sheriff's Deputy Byron Ashbrook and tobacco prevention specialist Chris Connally will work in the middle schools to educate students about the dangers of substance abuse and serve as role models, Sheriff Fred Newman said.
Life Skills training has been piloted with county sixth-graders for the past two years, school system drug-prevention coordinator Susan Seymore said.
In two year's time, she said, the program, which allows students opportunities to "role play... the art of saying no," has proven successful.
She said that through Life Skills, students learn risks associated with drug use and are given opportunities to talk about their problems.
Seymore said the county's rate for youth smoking was higher than the national average but that studies indicate the rate has declined since Life Skills started locally.
The grant is renewable for five years and will provide funds for other programs in addition to Life Skills, officials said.
According to Braganza, part of the money will be set aside for a program aimed to help both middle and elementary-school students through drug-abuse education classes taught in after-school programs.
County students involved in two Emory & Henry programs also will benefit from the grant money, Braganza said, as funds will be set aside to assist the college in providing drug-prevention education to students those programs reach.
Some of the grant funds will be used as early as next week, as Life Skills leaders are scheduled to visit a group of Washington County students attending the college's ACCESS Virginia program, said Scott Tate, a community service coordinator with the college.
Grant money also will add a program called "Class Action" to county schools, Braganza said. That program is being set up to address substance abuse and an associated county youth problem brought to light by research, he said.
Braganza said the county has seen an increase in arrest rates for drug violations among Washington County youths in recent years. "Class Action," he said, will give county deputies a chance to "teach students about their rights, obligations and responsibilities under the law."
The county Sheriff's Office already does Drug Abuse Resistance Education training, but the sheriff said the grant-funded programs are unique in that they place more emphasis on more-common drugs like tobacco and alcohol, whereas the DARE program incorporates education about other drugs as well as issues such as family abuse.
"This is just another method of trying to reach the students through a more intensive type of education in alcohol, tobacco and drug use prevention," Newman said.