It is a question of notoriety and communication.
That was the message left with the county commission on Wednesday morning as it recognized graduates of the sixth-grade All Star program from Juvenile Services 20th Judicial District Riley Elementary School in Great Bend. The program is designed to change lives by helping young people build a bright future.
“It’s about prevention,” said Blakelee Cooper, a juvenile services case manager who works with the program at Holy Family School in Great Bend. “It’s probably the favorite part of my job now.”
All Stars is implemented in sixth grades in: Jefferson, Lincoln, Park and Riley Elementary Schools from USD 428; $112 Central Plains; and Central Kansas Christian Academy and Holy Family School, both in Great Bend.
They talk about reputation with children and encourage students to visit their parents at home, she said. Children return with heartbreaking and heartwarming stories.
But, they’re still insightful, Cooper said.
“I love All Stars,” said Michelle Daniel, social worker and program facilitator at Riley Elementary School in Great Bend. Students take the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in fifth grade, “and sixth grade is the perfect time to develop that.”
“We ask them ‘what kind of future do they want for yourself,'” Daniel said. “A lot of them haven’t thought about it yet.”
Then they discuss character building and how to achieve their goals. Then they explain how to maintain that motivation as they enter the scary world of middle and high school.
“We talk about the future we want and the future we don’t want,” said Riley’s sixth-grader Gracely Dale. “We have to follow this path and not stop doing the right thing.”
“We’re learning that the choices you make can affect you,” said Xali Arias, also a sixth-grader at Riley.
“We want to nurture these young leaders as they enter college,” said Marissa Woodmansee, director of juvenile services. “We want them to stay committed to their future.”
A problem in sixth grade, facilitators said bullying becomes more of a problem as students move out of elementary schools. This is when cell phone and social media use increases and parental supervision of children decreases.
But even in primary school, children tell stories of bullying, insecurity and wanting to fit in, while trying to stick to what they’ve learned.
In addition to recognition at the board meeting, each school with the All Star program hosts its own end-of-year party.
The program was piloted at Riley seven years ago, and after two years it began to expand, Woodmansee said. They hope to expand the effort to other schools.
According to the Juvenile Justice website, the prevalence of substance use increases as teens get older. The goal of All Stars is to prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs and inhalants for as long as possible during the most risky years for adolescents.
As an added benefit, All Stars also prevents other behaviors including early sexual activity, bullying, and fighting. Whatever risky behavior exists, All Stars’ goal is to reduce, postpone and prevent it.
The second goal of All Stars is to give children hope and envision a bright and positive future for themselves.
With over 30 years of research in the area of substance use prevention, much is now known about what works and what doesn’t.