Substance Abuse Prevention

  • The Power of Teachers to Address the Opioid Epidemic

    Students study group with teacher

    According to the Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, Health, prescription drug misuse is a major public health challenge and a priority for our nation. In response, schools and community organizations are taking a proactive approach to help children and teens lead healthy and productive lives and stay substance-free. As Josh Cornfield of the Associated Press reports in Schools Reach Beyond 'Just Say No' On Opioid Dangers, many teachers are now addressing this topic with students as young as kindergarten.

    Linda Richter, Director of Policy Research and Analysis for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, recommends that schools rely on rigorously evaluated and proven prevention programs, like the Mendez Foundation's Too Good for Drugs.

    The evidence-based Too Good for Drugs program is designed to empower students grades K-12 with the skills they need to make healthy choices, build positive friendships, resist negative peer pressure, and ultimately avoid drug use. More specifically, lessons on understanding the negative health effects related to prescription drug misuse are available in the following grades:

     

    To learn more about Too Good for Drugs, and how you can prevent substance misuse, click here.

  • The Countdown to Red Ribbon Week Begins!

     

    Group Of Children Enjoying Drama Class Together

     

    Can you feel the excitement in the air?  Red Ribbon Week is almost here!  During October 23rd - 31st, schools and communities across the country will celebrate living a substance-free lifestyle.  Here are some fun ideas for making the most of Red Ribbon Week in your schools and communities!

     

     

    Monday: Goal for It! Talk to your students about how substance-use interferes with reaching their goals. Students can name a short-term goal they’d like to reach by the end of the week.  Display the Goal Setting Poster in your classroom to help your students track their progress.

    Tuesday: Brain Science!  Talk with students about the negative effects of substance-use on the developing brain and body and how they can protect their bodies as they grow.  Hold a short essay writing contest for students to choose and research one negative effect of substance-use on the brain or body.

    Wednesday: Bring it Home!  Parents and caregiver influence is essential to helping students stay substance-free.  Home Workouts provide great opportunities for students to share with their parents what they are learning about substance-free living.  Choose one from your Too Good toolkit to send home with students or design your own.

    Thursday: Around Town!  Students who live substance-free are positive role models in their communities.  Red Ribbon Week is a great time to encourage students to volunteer in their communities and help others see how passionate they are about making healthy decisions.

    Friday: Happy, Healthy, and Strong!  A big part of being a good friend is being a positive influence.  Students can sign a cutout handprint to put on the classroom door in a pledge to a substance-free lifestyle that will illustrate pro-social bonding.

    Looking for more?  Check out Celebrating Healthy Choices!  This one-week activity set for Grades K-5 introduces the fundamentals of social-emotional skills while building school connectedness.  Kits include everything you need to organize your school-wide events: plans and scripts for opening and closing assemblies, fully scripted fun and engaging activities, and so much more!

    However you choose to celebrate, here’s wishing you a fun and inspiring week!  Let the countdown begin!

  • Introducing Too Good for Drugs High School Revised

    AHS3901 TGFD Binder cover for web 1-16 look at any reputable study on current alcohol and drug use among youth will bring no surprise; substance use is still prevalent among teens. As children enter their teen years, they face increasingly complex challenges and influences. According to a survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 60 percent of high school students, at both public and private schools, reported drug-infected campuses. Such statistics make prevention efforts more relevant than ever.

    This week, individuals from across the nation will convene in Washington D.C. for CADCA’s 26th Annual National Leadership Forum and SAMHSA’s 12th Annual Prevention Day. Coalition leaders, prevention specialists, public health professionals, parents, and youth will join together to address the essential part prevention plays in keeping our youth substance-free.

    And on this auspicious occasion we announce with excitement our latest prevention effort: the forthcoming release of our revised Too Good for Drugs High School curriculum. The revised curriculum builds social emotional competency through fun and age appropriate lessons that foster self-awareness and social-awareness. With the help of educators, counselors, and prevention specialists, our evidence-based curriculum equips teens with the skills they need to resist negative influence that may lead to substance use, as well as prepares them for academic success that will carry over into their college and professional careers.

    Sign up today to receive program updates and news!

  • The Benefits of Responsible Decision Making

     

    Young girl in glasses, looking up

    "The time is always right to do what is right." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    As children grow, they face ever evolving challenges that require them to make increasingly complex decisions. For a kindergartner, this might be deciding to share a toy. For a senior in high school, this could be recognizing negative peer influence and incorporating that knowledge into their decision making. Learning to consider the positive and negative consequences of a decision is essential at any of these stages, and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies responsible decision making as one of the five pillars of social emotional learning. CASEL states that decision making skills can help children negotiate the following:

    Ethical Standards: By being challenged to make decisions, children evaluate and develop ethical standards that influence character building.

    Social Norms: Decision making skills that incorporate positive social norms as an influence help children navigate the difficulties of adolescence and resist peer pressure and peer influence.

    Consequences: Children with strong decision making skills can evaluate potential consequences of actions in order to determine what choice is the best option.

    By developing responsible decision making skills early on, children are prepared to face the real world challenges that will impact the course of their lives. And with those responsible decision making skills in place, children are equipped to lead happy and prosperous lives.

  • Volunteerism Encourages Social Emotional Learning

    Hands Holding VolunteerThe Holiday season is a time to be grateful for the many blessings we have in our lives. It is also a time we can help make the lives of others better. A report on National Public Radio states one in five families with children will go without enough food during the holiday season. Families, schools, and communities have an opportunity to address these needs by volunteering locally and by donating toys, food, and other goods. Children who volunteer become more aware of their own lives in relation to the lives of others. Volunteering also offers children the opportunity to develop and apply key social emotional skills.

    Social Awareness: Children exposed to and aware of the diverse backgrounds of others learn how to interact with others with respect, empathy, and open-mindedness.

    Responsible Decision-Making: Volunteering teaches children to make respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions in situations they may not have otherwise encountered.

    Relationship Skills: By listening to and interacting with the experiences of others, children learn to communicate clearly, listen actively, and respond to the needs of others.

    Social emotional skills are essential for academic, personal, and professional success. Through volunteering, children have the opportunity to better the lives of those around them and to develop skills that will lead them to lifelong success.

    All of us at the Mendez Foundation wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

  • Building School Connectedness

    Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised HandsThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocate school connectedness as an essential ingredient to buffer youth against engaging in risky behaviors such as tobacco, alcohol, and drug use or aggressive and violent behavior. Students who feel connected to their schools stake a claim in their learning and are therefore more likely to make healthy choices and stay on a path toward academic success. Schools, families, and communities must work together to create a caring and supportive environment for students.

    Adult Support: Parent engagement encourages positive student behavior and academic success. Schools can engage families to take part in their child’s education through interactive take-home activities or newsletters.

    Belonging to a Positive Peer Group: Students with strong social emotional skills are better equipped for positive peer bonding. Students are faced with the challenge of selecting their friends, and strong decision-making skills will help them choose positive peer groups.

    Commitment to Education: Students who have an active interest in their education are more persistent in succeeding academically. Participatory learning enhances students’ commitment to their education by keeping them interested and engaged.

    School Environment: A caring and supportive school environment fosters student learning. Students who feel they are valued are more comfortable and therefore more willing to take healthy risks as they try and learn.

    Students who are actively connected with their schools develop positive behaviors that reinforce their decisions to avoid risky behaviors and to set positive short and long term goals.  Strong social emotional skills, coupled with a supportive school climate and caring adult involvement, foster in students the resiliency they need to meet the challenges they face in childhood, adolescence, and beyond into adulthood.

  • The Benefits of Writing Down Goals

    Close-up of a boy writing on paper with a pencilChildren who set reachable goals for themselves make an investment in their future.  As a result, they are more likely to make responsible decisions that will keep them on track toward their goals and resist negative influences that would deter them from reaching their goals.

    Six key steps can help students set and achieve their goals.  Students must begin by naming their goals. And when students write down their goals it concretizes them.  The results are so positive it is hard to believe something so simple can be so effective.  According to Forbes Magazine writer, Ashley Feinstein, a Harvard University study compared a body of students who had not set goals, students who had set goals but not written them down, and students who had set goals and written them down. They followed up with the class ten years later and found that the “3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined!”

    Furthermore, NPR recently featured a University of Toronto professor, Jordan Peterson, who conducted a classroom experiment with goal-setting and writing.  Peterson began with the “’goal-setting theory’ [which] holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve.” He asserts writing positively influences students’ motivations to meet their goals.

    Peterson designed an undergraduate course that moved students through a series of writing exercises related to their goals.  The results proved positive, especially with at-risk students, to increase student retention rates and overall academic achievement.  One student, formerly involved in drug use, even proclaimed it turned her life around.  Peterson’s process encouraged students to “reflect on important moments in their past, identify key personal motivations and create plans for the future, including specific goals and strategies to overcome obstacles."

    Once students have chosen a goal, picturing the goal as it is reached will help students define what they are aiming for.  A positive attitude goes a long way toward helping students reach their goals, so the next step is for students to say “I Can” to their goals.  With goals in place, students must then think of how to do it. This, again, is a place where writing is beneficial.  Making a checklist can help students tangibly keep track of their action steps. Which brings us to the next step—Go for it! Well-planned goals are ready to be reached.

    Once the goal is achieved, students can enjoy celebrating their success. Feinstein writes, “How will you celebrate once you’ve reached your goal?  As we journey to the realization of our goals, it’s important to remember our vision.”  Starting with a clear picture of the goal, as well as writing down the goal and writing the action steps in the process, keeps the vision alive.  Learning these best practices in school encourages students to aspire to academic success as learning becomes a means to a greater end.  Students not only have the satisfaction of meeting their goals but also the knowledge and confidence they need to keep setting and reaching increasingly complex goals as they grow older. With these goal-setting skills in place, students are emboldened to reach out to a galaxy of dreams.

  • Altruism and Social Emotional Learning

    Two hands reaching out

    Social emotional learning has been shown to heighten academic success, ready students for the workplace, and help prevent risky behaviors such as substance abuse and violence. Furthermore, researchers at the Greater Good Science Center say social emotional learning cultivates in students an innate human altruism. Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley professor and author of Born to Be Good, asserts “based on research in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience that we are also wired for good.” If we are wired for good, the theory is we need simply to harness that desire to act based on that hard-wired good.

    According to the Greater Good Science Center, much “compelling proof that we are wired for altruism, kindness, and compassion comes from numerous studies that demonstrate children as young as 14 months have innate altruistic tendencies, well before socialization can have a major influence on their development.” The Science Center cites 18-month olds who help other people without outside encouragement. In one case, seeing an adult who had his hand full of books, a toddler opened a cupboard for him.

    Still other researchers found “toddlers’ happiness levels increased significantly when they gave away one of their own treats rather than a treat that belonged to another person.” Toddlers’ positive feelings were reinforced by their desire to share their belongings with their peers. It is a sort of cyclical effect of the desire to do good deeds for others engendering good feelings which then prompts the further desire to do more good deeds.

    But how does this all tie back to social emotional learning? The development of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and empathy encourages children to bond with others in a meaningful way.  According to the Greater Good Science Center, “fostering social and emotional skills helps to build classroom and school environments that bring out our innate altruism.” Cooperative learning environments that reinforce and normalize cooperative behaviors in children, in turn inspire children to carry these behaviors out into the world. In this process of bonding, children are likely to find the desire to share and to give, reinforcing what Keltner calls the hard-wired altruism that lies within us.

  • National Prevention Week

    Mendez_I_Choose_PhotoWagner was so excited to participate in SAMHSA’s “I Choose” Project for National Prevention Week!  As we wrap up a week of spreading messages for prevention, we at the Mendez Foundation reflect on our origins, and we thought it would be fun to share with you a little of our history.

    Doing good work for the health and well-being of our children is nothing new for the Mendez Foundation. For more than thirty-five years, we've been developing and implementing prevention education programs K-12 that teach kids they are too good for drugs and violence. Our evidence-based, skill-building programs make a positive impact on the lives of students, teachers, parents, and community leaders nationwide.

    Charles E. Mendez established the C. E. Mendez Foundation in 1964 to support local charitable organizations serving underprivileged children and their families living in the Tampa Bay area. Following his death in 1967, Charles E. Mendez’s legacy and the Mendez Foundation were carried on by his family.

    In 1975, Charles E. Mendez, Jr., now President of the Foundation, grew concerned with the alarming growth of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use by young people. He refocused the Foundation's efforts to develop and deliver prevention education programs to address these substance abuse problems.  To that end, our own Prevention Specialists have been positive role models delivering Too Good for Drugs in Hillsborough County Public Schools since 1980.

    The Foundation's programs would be developed with this philosophy in mind: providing children age-appropriate, factual information about the negative health effects of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, combined with development of critical decision making and goal setting skills, delivered by professional educators who are positive role models, will result in better decision-making by our children.

    We also put our community stakeholder hats on when we put together fun, free family events like the Too Good for Drugs Walk and Kidfest and the I am Too Good for Drugs Junior Gasparilla Distance Classic events in Tampa.  Summertime in Tampa bridges the school years with the Summer Parks program in the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Centers.

    Our social emotional learning skills-based prevention programs soon gained national recognition, and our curricula are currently used by over 3,500 school districts, community agencies, and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

    As prevention educators, we have a professional commitment to the careful development, rigorous testing, and on-going refinement of our programs. As an organization, we have a time honored commitment to ready children for success in school and in their future careers. It's our purpose and our passion.

  • Childhood Self-Control Linked to Future Job Success

    According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Sciences (APS), “children with high self-control — who are typically better able to pay attention, persist with difficult tasks, and suppress inappropriate or impulsive behaviors — are much more likely to find and retain employment as adults.” Learning such executive function skills early in life builds a foundation for future success.

    The APS study found adults who properly developed self-control early in childhood spent almost half as much time unemployed than those whose self-control was underdeveloped. This is a significant number to consider when one’s livelihood is on the line. Furthermore, those lacking in self-control who lost their jobs had a difficult time finding new jobs. APS says this could be due to a number of factors such as “a heightened vulnerability to stress due to unemployment, the adverse effect of prolonged career interruptions on skill development and a greater likelihood of falling into habits which hinder their chances of regaining employment.”

    The evidence is clear, but how can we help children develop self-control early in life? APS suggests school programs, as well as mindfulness exercises such as yoga or walking meditation. We can promote self-control practices by teaching children the tools they need to make responsible decisions and manage their emotions. Self-control is apparent in children who stop to think before they act or take a deep breath before expressing an emotion. Small gestures can go a long way in helping children establish healthy and confident behaviors.

    Children who develop these social emotional skill sets and who develop an eager readiness to learn are better prepared for success in school and beyond. Self awareness and self-control help facilitate in children a desire to make school a priority, and that attitude extends into employment when they grow into adulthood. It is crucial for children to learn these skills to prepare them forAnchor both short term and long term success.

    Early grade school is an effective age to begin implementing self-control practices, according to APS, so it is never too early to begin teaching children how to incorporate these practices into their daily lives. Early implementation also equips children with the tools they need for ongoing development as they continue to meet the challenges they will face as they grow older. Children who get a head start on these essential life skills are more likely to secure for themselves steady employment and therefore a flourishing future.

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