Thursday, August 10, 2017

State gives 28 school districts grants to teach children healthy life choices and to avoid drugs, alcohol and tobacco

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

If you have ever heard Kentucky's Health Commissioner Hiram Polk speak, you have likely heard him talk about his plan to create an education program to teach young children how to live healthy, drug-free lives, and it looks like his plan is about to become reality.

As part of Dr. Polk's initiative, the state Department of Public Health has distributed $942,938 to 28 school districts statewide to receive "Early Childhood Healthy Living" grants, reaching 96 schools.

"If there is a secret to drug, tobacco and alcohol addiction, it is through very early childhood education. I believe that," Polk told Kentucky Health News in September 2016, after being in the position a few months.

The one-time awards vary between $15,000 and $40,000 per school district and Polk hopes to be able to provide additional funding in the future, Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an email.

The grants will support "evidence-based" programs that focus on reducing substance abuse, violence, bulling and suicide, as well as ones that promote physical activity, improve academic success and promote parental and caregiver supports. They target preschool through fourth grade.

"The early development years are essential to equipping our children to make healthy life choices when they face the temptations of drug, alcohol and tobacco use in later years," Hogan said.

Kentucky's children face those temptations earlier than you might think.

The biennial 2016 "Kentucky Incentives for Prevention" survey, which is given to students across the state in even-numbered grades starting in the sixth grade, found that 21.5 percent of the more than 30,000 sixth graders polled thought that tobacco use was a problem at their school, 12.8 percent thought alcohol was a problem and 15.3 percent thought drug use was a problem.

"Waiting until fifth grade, or middle school, to provide these programs is too late," Hogan said. "Starting programs to reach students sooner is a must."

Recipients of the grants will report the results of their projects at the end of the fall semester, and will then share this information with other school districts in March or April, Hogan said.

These programs are part of an initiative to combat the opioid epidemic that is sweeping Kentucky. Last year, 1,404 Kentuckians died as a result of an opioid overdose -- a 7.4 increase from 2015.

“We need to build a foundation in our children for healthy lives, free from substance abuse,” Lynne M. Saddler, director of the Northern Kentucky Health Departmenttold The River City News of Northern Kentucky. “The programs being implemented with these grant funds can reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs and drive down youth suicide rates. They can improve children’s social and emotional health by reducing violence and bullying. Such programs can build strong systems for teachers and parents and improve the long-term health of our community.”

Five Northern Kentucky school districts received grants, including Kenton County and the independent districts of Beechwood, Dayton, Erlanger-Elsmere and Walton-Verona.

Other districts include: Paris in Bourbon County; Danville in Boyle County; Bullitt County; Franklin County; Menifee County; Rowan County; Henderson County; Union County; Casey County; Pulaski County; Russell County; Lincoln County; Hardin County; Marion County; West Point in Hardin County; Marshall County; Shelby County; Crittenden County; McCracken County; Carroll County; Barbourville in Knox County; Whitley County, Corbin and Williamsburg.

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