It’s not often that a Girl Scout Gold Award project receives national recognition, but that’s what is happening for Atlanta, GA Girl Scout Avery B. For her Gold Award (similar to the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout rank), she created the EncourageMe program—a program designed to help teach older elementary school students about supportive friendships.
The program consists of four separate sessions, each with a printable lesson plan, two video lessons, discussion questions about the videos, and activities and games that relate to the topic. The four sessions focus on:
The program is designed to be used in the classroom, but could be used as a PTA event with four stations or as an after school program.
The sessions were all reviewed by a school psychologist, and elementary school counselor, and a middle school counselor to ensure that they covered appropriate skills effectively. She has successfully used the program at four different elementary schools.
Avery B spoke at the Georgia School Counselors Association meeting in 2018 about the EncourageMe program, and it has been featured in the newsletters of both the Florida and Illinois School Counselors Associations. Check out the EncourageMe program as a way for your PTA to help kids develop supportive friendships.
Suicide is once again in the headlines with the recent suicides of two Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who survived the mass shooting in Parkland, FL and the suicide of the parent of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Parents can play an important role in preventing suicide by directly asking their child if they are okay and if they are considering harming themselves. The National Suicide Prevention Lifelineprovides free 24/7 support for people in distress at 1-800 273-8255.
Parents often have mistaken ideas about child suicide. An NPR story a few years ago spells out these six myths:
- Asking someone about suicide will cause them to become suicidal.
- Depression causes all suicides.
- We cannot really prevent suicides.
- Suicides always happen in an impulsive moment.
- Young children, ages 5 through 12, cannot be suicidal.
- When there has been a suicide, having a school assembly seems like a good idea.
Every one of those six statements is not true. Read the full articlefor details on each one. Take advantage of the resources at the National Suicide Prevention Lifelineto learn what the risk factors and warning signs of suicide are.
Do you know if your school district has a school wellness policy, and if so, what’s in it and what the district is doing to implement it? If your district participates in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, they are required to develop such a plan and to permit parents to participate in its development. They are also required to update and inform parents about its content and implementation. There are many resources to help your PTA get involved in your school’s wellness policy, and this year’s Illinois PTA Convention will also feature a workshop on how parents can change a school’s health culture by Action for Healthy Kids.
National PTA spells out how your PTA can be involved and ensure that parents’ rights and the legal requirement to be included are followed. These resources include:
- A summary of what an effective, comprehensive school wellness policy should include
- A School Wellness Committee Toolkit from Alliance for a Healthier Generation to help committees convene, plan, and implement their action plans (Note: login required)
- Model School Wellness Policies from the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity
- School Health Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Local School Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit from the US Department of Agriculture to help communicate school wellness information to families and school staff
- WellSAT 3.0 from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity that measures the quality of written wellness policies.
School wellness is a community issue, and your school district is required to include families in the development and implementation of their policy. Ensure that your PTA has a seat at the table to advocate for your child and the children of your school district.
When Illinois PTA first shared information about e-cigarette use among adolescents in 2014, we noted that use had more than doubled from 3.3% to 6.8% from 2011 to 2012. Today, the use of e-cigarettes or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) has risen to nearly 15% in 2018. The growth in the use of ENDS comes at a time when adolescents are smoking traditional tobacco products and using smokeless tobacco at significantly lower rates than in recent years. This growth was one of the contributing factors to Illinois PTA’s adoption of a Resolution on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) at the 2018 Illinois PTA Convention.
One of the reasons for this increase is that ENDS are presented as safer than traditional cigarettes. This is true, but as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, cigarettes are extraordinarily dangerous products that kill approximately half of the people who use them regularly. And while ENDS are suggested as having a potential benefit for adults looking to quit smoking cigarettes, they are not considered safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
Another reason for increased use is believed to be Juul, a brand of ENDS that looks similar to a USB flash drive that has so dominated the market that vaping is now often referred to as “Juuling” among youth. The pods used in Juul products have come in “kid-appealing” flavors like candy and fruit in the past, and surveys have shown these flavors are the primary reason for the use of ENDS among youth. As the Food and Drug Administration moved to regulate ENDS use, Juul announced it was suspending in-store sales of such flavors. Education Week created a video aimed at teachers (but also useful for parents) on how to detect Juul use in the classroom.
The health concerns with ENDS starts with nicotine, a highly addictive chemical present in most ENDS liquid pods that are inserted into the ENDS and vaporized. Nicotine has been shown to harm adolescent brain development, and its concentration in ENDS pods is often the equivalent to the nicotine in one or two packs of cigarettes. Nicotine in high concentrations is toxic, and as ENDS use has increased, so has the rate of nicotine poisonings in the US, increasing from only 269 in 2011 to 3,137 in 2018.
But nicotine is not the only chemical of concern in the ENDS vapor that is inhaled and exhaled. Youth often cite ENDS as being “safe” and the vapor inhaled as only “water,” but other substances that have been found in ENDS vapor include heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead; ultrafine particles; carcinogens; and flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease. While the number of harmful chemicals in ENDS vapor is fewer than those in cigarette smoke, ENDS are by no means safe for use.
Resources for Families
Photo © 2016 by Mylesclark96under Creative Commons license.