In Stafford Township, it takes a community to educate students in the dangers of substance abuse. Health care workers from the local hospital; police department D.A.R.E. officers; and local anti-drug-abuse leaders worked with Stafford Township School District staff to create “Project Aware,” a substance abuse education program that was recognized by the NJSBA as a School Leader Award winner.
“Project Aware” uses dramatic presentation to teach sixth-graders the consequences of making bad choices, and help them discover the power they have to avoid drug and alcohol abuse. Students in the Intermediate Schools’ drama enrichment program created the play, which premiered in 2001 and is held each year at the conclusion of the D.A.R.E. and health education classes.
Students act out the story of a gathering of 13-year-olds that gets out of hand, and ends in tragedy due to heavy drug and alcohol use. The drama is updated to include current real-life details, such as texting and social media postings, to connect to the students’ lives and experience. It also demonstrates a way for students can make good choices to avoid a bad situation.
Students in Project Aware also visit Southern Ocean Medical Center, where emergency room staff members discuss the dangers of drug abuse. Finally, they hear from a local man, an admitted former drug user, who suffered severe injury and loss due to drugs and alcohol use. He tells his story of triumph over substance abuse, and asks the students to pledge to be drug free.
Project Aware resonated with students who saw it. A survey of 257 students who watched the production in 2013 showed that 96 percent thought the skit was realistic, and 72 percent of the students said the production should be performed for sixth-graders every year. Some 89 percent said they felt it would change the way they would handle a similar situation, and 97 percent said it was important to hear from police, nurses and emergency squad members.
“The message was that you need to make good choices to be successful,” one student wrote. “Don’t do drugs or you would lose the things you love most,” another said.
Contact: Mr. William Wilkinson, Principal of the Stafford Intermediate School, [email protected]
A 2013 NJSBA School Leader Award winner