JTHS project takes a stand against heroin
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org October 24, 2012 6:50PM
Curriculum Director Dianne McDonald (below) addresses the crowd about lesson plans and interactive resources available during a press conference to announce the school's participation in the pilot of the Robert Crown Center heroin prevention initiative as part of the school's health education curriculum in the Little Theater at Joliet Central High School Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 7:14AM
JOLIET — Joliet Township High School has a new heroin-prevention project, warning of a drug that has killed more than 30 people this year in Will County.
On Wednesday, the school announced plans to integrate heroin prevention into health classes, based on a partnership with the Robert Crown Center for Health Education. The project is designed to educate students, parents and the entire school community.
The pilot program is part of Will County HELPS — an acronym for “Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions.” County Executive Larry Walsh created HELPS in 2011 to fight the growing problem of heroin use and overdoses in the county.
“As a school board, we feel it is important to inform our students of the dangers and consequences of substance abuse,” said Jeff Pierson, school board president.
“This is an unbelievably dangerous drug,” Walsh said of heroin. “As we said in our public service announcements: ‘You only choose once. After that, you’re addicted.’”
“The opiates suppress the nerves that control your breathing, and you simply stop breathing,” said James Glasgow, Will County state’s attorney, who has worked with Walsh in the HELPS initiative.
Pierson, Walsh and Glasgow addressed students in the Little Theatre at Joliet Central High School, speaking plainly about the dangers of heroin.
“It is an absolute shame that we lose so many young people,” Walsh said. “We are hoping that we are putting together a program that we believe is going to be successful. And I’m so proud that my alma mater, Joliet Township High School, is leading the way.”
Dianne McDonald, curriculum director for the school district, gave the audience a preview of the online resources that will be used by students and teachers.
McDonald visited Robert Crown’s website — www.robertcrown.org — and invited students to visit on their phones and mobile devices. She guided the audience through the log-in process.
For students, the website includes a social media case, containing the story of a teen who starts using prescription pain pills and progresses to heroin.
This software tells a story using text messages, comic book scenes, “Friendbook” pages, bank statements, report cards and blogs — and paints a realistic picture of a teen’s life over the course of several months.
“This allows the students to piece together the story themselves in order to see the effects of addiction and heroin use on a character they come to know and understand over the course of a school year,” Walsh’s office said in a statement.
The social media case involves an interactive town, like a Sims game, McDonald said.
“There’s a timeline on the bottom. You actually see the timeline of these three characters as they interact socially at school, as they interact socially on the weekends,” she said.
“We know that to reach students the best, it should be something that you can explore — discovery,” McDonald said.
The social media case is appropriate for both middle-school and high-school students.
McDonald also pointed out resources for educators on the following topics: information on opioids, the impact of drugs on the brain, understanding and minimizing risks of abuse, and starting conversations. These resources will be integrated into health and advisory classes.
“One of the benefits of the curriculum is that it’s easily woven into our existing health curriculum,” McDonald said. “The lesson plans allow teachers flexibility, but at the same time it does address the health goals that we need to teach.”
Since 1999, more than 200 heroin-related deaths have occurred in Will County. The numbers are only getting worse: 15 people died in 2007, 17 in 2008, 29 in 2009, 26 in 2010, and 30 in 2011. Just last month, The Herald-News reported that this year’s death count had surpassed 30.
After Wednesday’s presentation, students at Joliet Central discussed the importance of a heroin-prevention project.
“It’s very important to be educated about the fact that heroin can kill you,” said Michael Stamm, a junior. Stamm stressed the need to inform students on the addictive nature of the drug, and the need for prevention.
The program uses the technology of the age to affect students positively. With hope, it will combat the negative effects of today’s culture.
“Times evolve — with social media, TV, the pop culture, everything like that. As it’s evolving, new things are coming up, and people are being pressured into trying different things,” said Jarais Musgrove, a sophomore.
Musgrove emphasized the importance of reaching teens on a personal level, and getting them to spread the anti-drug message.
Karen Perez, a sophomore, mentioned the website and the technology component of the heroin-prevention project. “That will help us relate more,” she said.
“In your class, every day, you can start to learn the everyday life of a student going through heroin,” said Jillian Sharp, a junior.
And Sharp agreed with Musgrove: A student’s voice is powerful in preventing others from using heroin.