Take Your Students on a Reality Tour
Written by Maryann Boddy, Principal, Iron Mountain High School and Region 1 Representative, MASSP Board of Directors
Red Ribbon Week is just around the corner; October 20-28 or 23-31 depending on the source you reference. I am sure your SADD clubs and other groups are planning activities for the week to promote drug free living. Do you ever wonder if there is more that we can do as educators to implement meaningful ongoing drug prevention education in our schools?
I found myself asking this same question a year ago as our community was dealing with an alarming increase in the use of synthetic marijuana. It got so bad that I requested permission from my board of education to address the city council to get the word out to understand that the problem was a community issue and not just a school issue. I recruited my liaison officer and parents to attend the meeting with me and tell their stories. Little did I know the response that we would get from concerned citizens!
These volunteers took it upon themselves to organize a group and picket outside of the smoke shops that were selling the synthetic marijuana. We held community forums at school and we invited parents, students and experts in to talk and help us address the epidemic that we were facing. Then one night, a person commented that this effort was all well and good but questioned what more was the school was going to do about this. Without thought I responded that we are a school and we need to rely on what we do best –educating all stakeholders.
I had a mission, so I looked for a program that was more than a one-time presentation and would have an on-going presence in our community. That’s when I learned about the Reality Tour. I am proud to say that Iron Mountain Public Schools is the only school district in the country to hold a license for the program. We are also the only organization in the state of Michigan to hold a license. Now, one year later we are planning our fourth Tour.
Reality Tour is a volunteer-driven substance abuse prevention program that is presented to parents and children (ages 10-17) in a community setting over the course of one 3-hour session. The goal of the program is to increase children's negative attitudes toward alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other illicit drugs, as well as their perceived risk of harm from use of these substances.
Reality Tour provides participants with testimonies from individuals with a history of addiction, an address by law enforcement personnel, and the opportunity to pose questions to these speakers. The session also includes dramatic narratives (provided on DVD) that precede brief re-enactments of emergency room and funeral home scenes involving a young person who has overdosed on drugs, as well as the portrayal of an arrest and imprisonment (or the viewing of an arrest and imprisonment on DVD). Reality Tour participants are given information on coping and refusal skills, as well as guidance in assessing their own coping skills. Each child receives printed profiles of abused drugs, a form that includes a contact list for community resources, and a personal photograph that has been digitally altered to show how the child's appearance might change negatively from substance use. Children also are encouraged to sign a banner pledging to remain drug free. Parents receive printed drug education materials and resources for accessing electronic materials, as well as the opportunity to sign up for newsletters delivered via email.
Reality Tour, which is grounded in part in protection motivation theory, attempts to modify children's attitudes, perceptions, and ultimately behavior by highlighting children's vulnerability to the potential harm from substance use and motivating them to learn about the problems of substance use. The program employs interactive teaching methods, and the developer recommends small audiences so participants have a more personal experience. In addition, child-parent interaction is encouraged, with the expectation that the children and their parents will develop shared attitudes and perceptions.
A community can be organized and ready to implement Reality Tour in about two months. Approximately 24 volunteers must be recruited to present the program, and they are trained through multiple DVDs over four to six meetings. Volunteers should include individuals in law enforcement, civic and faith-based groups, youth groups, and the recovery community, as well as youth and adults from the community at large, health care providers, and educators. Two civic-minded persons also are needed to serve as program directors. There is a monetary commitment of $3,500 to purchase a 3-year license for the program. However, with the community behind our efforts, I was able to raise the money through donations from local businesses in a matter of just a few weeks.
Overall, the experience has been incredible. The entire community has joined together with the school to be part of the solution. I have been invited to speak and share our progress at Rotary, Kiwanis and other civic club meetings. Local media has also provided coverage of each Tour that we have presented. The Reality Tour has become an integral part of our community and I couldn't be more proud of it. If you would like more information on Reality Tour, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or visit the Reality Tour website at www.candleinc.org.