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Placer schools’ prevention programs march on despite tough economy

State funding for most ended in 2010
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Despite funding cuts in recent years, drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention and mental health programs are still going strong in Placer County school districts.

And that's good news for those who are trying to educate parents about teen drug abuse locally.

Beginning in 1986, school districts got Safe and Drug-Free School Communities Funding to help implement a variety of prevention programs, according to Greg Wolfe, consultant in the Coordinated School Health and Safety Office with the state Department of Education.

That federal funding stopped flowing in 2010.

"There is no longer any of that money provided to schools by the federal government to support drug or alcohol programs," Wolfe said.

The California Department of Education lists almost 50 programs it classifies as "science-based" on its website. "Science-based" means the programs have been researched by either California Health Kids Resource Center, the University of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence Blueprint Model, or the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.

The programs listed range from the American Lung Association's Not On Tobacco program for high school students, to the Incredible Years program for students in Kindergarten through third grade.

There is also Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, Keepin' It Real, Functional Family Therapy, and more programs that are all aimed at helping families and keeping students on track and away from drug, alcohol or tobacco use.

Though the Safe and Drug-Free School Communities Funding dried up two years ago, Placer County school districts still provide a variety of prevention and mental health programs, some that are categorized as "science-based" and others that have flowed out of community partnerships.

Wolfe added that the Legislative Mandate for Tobacco Control of 1988, or Proposition 99, still provides funding to schools for tobacco prevention programs through a 25 cent tax hike on cigarette packs at the time.

Mike Lombardo, director of interagency facilitation for the Placer County Office of Education, said this is one of few school districts that still have a separate office that focuses specifically on prevention programs and mental health services.

"Our county office has a strong commitment for the implementation of programs and the use of evidence-based approaches of working with students," Lombardo said.

Alan Baker, co-chairman of the Coalition for Placer Youth, is thankful for the implementation of these programs and said his organization has also worked with school districts. The coalition speaks to groups of parents at schools about how important their role is when it comes to keeping students away from drugs and alcohol.

"Right now one of the biggest things that has helped is parent education," Baker said. "A lot of times parents feel that teens don't listen to them, but most students who don't drink or do drugs say it's because they don't want to disappoint their parents."

Around 10 percent of Placer County's seventh-grade students drink on a regular basis, according to Baker. By their freshmen year around 20 percent of students drink.

While less than 15 percent of high school students smoke marijuana in Placer County, Baker said it's important for parents to be ready to address these issues early. He said they also need to understand that most students who try prescription drugs for the first time don't do so at school, but instead at home.

He added that those who start taking prescription drugs recreationally do so because they view them as "soft drugs" because they weren't bought off the street.
"In high schools they're starting to communicate that just because a doctor prescribed it doesn't mean it's safe," Baker said.

Lombardo said the variety of programs offered is mainly due to the collaboration between the school system and multiple local entities. This partnership is called Children's System of Care, and it has been meeting weekly for more than 20 years to ensure programs continue to be funded in one way or another.

"It depends on the program and what services we're providing, but there are a variety of funding streams districts use to continue to provide those services," Lombardo said.

For example, the school system and Kids First have come together to bring in multiple prevention and intervention programs. The Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program is also used along with A2Y Mentors.

Second Step, a social and emotional skills program for students from pre-Kindergarten through eighth grades, is also used in many schools, according to Lombardo.

But programs that deal with mental health and wellness fall into another funding bracket that is used extensively in Placer County school districts.

"There is a lot of interest in the education community about wellness and a child's mental health," Lombardo said.

The Mental Health Services Act of 2004, or Proposition 63, provides funding for these programs through a 1 percent tax on those who bring in a yearly income of $1 million or more.

For example, Incredible Years, which is used throughout local elementary schools, is paid for by funding through the Mental Health Services Act, according to Lombardo.

The Mental Health Services Act also enables his office to attend and provide mental health training for educators across the state through the Eliminating Barriers to Education Through Identification of Mental Health Issues.

"We teach them how to respond quickly and not react when it's too late and that student hasn't done any studying all year because they've been depressed about a relative dying or they have an anxiety disorder," Lombardo said. "Recognizing those issues early on obviously helps the wellness of that student, but also promotes their academic success."

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.