Guest post by Robert Suman
In a suburban school district 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, school leaders in the Norwin School District took a proactive stance against one of the fastest-growing epidemics to sweep the country—opioid addiction.
In the last calendar year alone, Norwin has lost five recent graduates to this quiet killer and elected to pursue and implement a program to educate its student body. Norwin personnel have come to realize that no one is immune to this epidemic, regardless of age, race, gender, or socio-economic status. We can take two courses of action—be proactive or be reactive. With a drug problem that is trending quickly in the wrong direction, we have elected to be proactive and take an active role in educating our students.
Two short years ago, Norwin Middle School, in collaboration with several district stakeholders, became the first school in the nation to participate in a newly crafted outreach program titled Operation Prevention. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Discovery Education created this research-based curriculum that is aligned to national health standards. The program aims to educate students about the science of addiction and the impact that opioid drugs have on the body.
The district strategically implemented the program at the middle school for several reasons. The middle school years are a prime time in students’ lives when some of them are beginning to take part in highly competitive sports, which often leads to injuries requiring surgery. Additionally, at this age, some students experience the removal of wisdom teeth. Both of these encounters usually are associated with prescribed pain medications.
We implemented this program in multiple steps to ensure that we, as a district, were moving in a direction that would allow for proper alignment. The first stage of implementation was establishing a steering committee that would meet to review the Operation Prevention program via a phone or web conference to learn more about the product. Once we determined that Operation Prevention offered a program that would supplement our goal of opioid addiction education, I was able to provide three of our health and physical education instructors with two days of professional development time to review and audit the existing health curriculum in our middle school (comprised of 830 students in grades 7 and 8). During this time, teachers were able to cooperatively plan and implement what we believed to be appropriate elements for effective instruction within each grade level.
The unique and advantageous aspect of the Operation Prevention program is that it is not a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum. Instead, it includes educator guides with digital lesson plans, virtual field trips, and a parent toolkit that can be supplemented where applicable. This flexibility allowed the district to design a well-rounded unit of study.
We hope that after exposure to classroom lessons, internal dialogue, and classroom discussions, parents will take time to utilize the parent toolkit as a means to supplement and enhance discussions from the home front. After completing the pilot program, the district created a short survey and emailed it to Norwin Middle School parents to obtain their feedback. The results showed support to expand the Operation Prevention curriculum to additional grade levels. The steering committee met and agreed to implement grade-appropriate lessons at both our intermediate school (Grade 6) and our high school (Grade 10) this year.
We at Norwin School District encourage all schools and districts to embrace the same proactive approach in an attempt to save young lives. All Operation Prevention resources are available for immediate implementation, at no cost at www.OperationPrevention.com.
Robert Suman is the building principal at Norwin Middle School. He is a 25-year veteran in the field of education, serving in an administrative role in the past 16 years. He currently serves as a member of Norwin School District’s K–12 Operation Prevention Advisory Committee.