King’s takes holistic approach to substance use prevention

For the second consecutive year, King’s Academy held a week-long substance use prevention campaign in cooperation with Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD), a leading provider of school-based prevention services, to provide students with the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to make intelligent, healthy choices.

The school-wide campaign took a more holistic approach this year by having all students in grades 7 to 11 participate in sessions with two prevention specialists from FCD, while sessions for seniors focused on preparing them for the future.

Additional workshops took place for house heads, dorm parents and faculty, and the workshop for parents this year included Arabic translation to ensure that language was no barrier to parents receiving this important information. According to the specialists, education and early intervention are key to effective prevention of addictive and unhealthy behaviors.

FCD specialists Will Straughan and Stacey Wisniewski provided teachers and parents with knowledge, tips and tools to recognize risk factors, in addition to ways of preventing unhealthy behavior.

Straughan and Wisniewski spoke to students about topics including how the teen brain works and why younger people are more vulnerable to addiction; risk factors and common reasons why kids may use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs; and how misperceptions about social norms lead to unhealthy decisions.

Recognizing the importance of peers in intervention and substance use prevention, a more intensive session was also held this year for proctors and peer counselors.

“King’s has a really passionate group of peer leaders,” said Wisniewski following the session for proctors and peer counselors. “I think that is particularly notable because just having a close-knit community is a huge protective factor.”  

“Everyone at King’s has been very open to talking about these topics,” she added. “It is a great environment to really get targeted prevention efforts started. Conversation is the first step.”

Notably, this year’s campaign was informed by data gathered from a survey that all King’s students had taken the year before. This allowed FCD to offer more powerful guidelines and recommendations based on real data from the survey.   

In one such example, the specialists explained that one of the most common reasons behind students making unhealthy choices is that people tend to do what they perceive everybody else to be doing. So, if teenagers have the mistaken perception that most older students smoke, they are more likely to try a cigarette.

This false perception was backed by data from the survey which indicated that while 43 percent of all King’s students believe their schoolmates think that “it’s cool to get drunk,” only 7 percent of all students actually think “it’s cool to get drunk.”

The specialists noted that when students learn what is really true rather than what they perceive as true – through education, honest communication and objective data – they will have a better understanding of social norms, and will make healthier choices based on real information. 

Nowadays, the general trend shows that most people are making healthy choices; the good news for King’s is that one of the key survey findings backs this up. The finding states that “the majority of King’s students hold positive beliefs, engage in responsible decision-making, and exhibit healthy behaviors.”

Wellness and Advising Director Nada Dakhil expressed her pleasure with the impact the campaign is having, noting that the school community – students, teachers and parents – are all talking about substance use in a more educated and informed way.

“After hearing from the specialists more than once, we have established a common language,” said Dakhil. “This equips us with strategies and understanding, so rather than shaming or stigmatizing, we can focus on understanding and helping anyone struggling.”

For more information about King’s substance use prevention campaign, contact Wellness and Advising Director Nada Dakhil