According to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) which is given in schools across the United States, alcohol and drug abuse by youths has either decreased or stayed the same from 2009 to 2011. Despite this positive trend, the Center for Disease Control has reported that 11% of all alcohol is still being consumed by 11-21 year olds and there were over 189,000 youth emergency room visits in 2010 due to alcohol. On a local level, the Journal Sentinel reports that today over half of Wisconsin youth are drinking before their 14th birthday. Health Rocks, the 4-H sponsored prevention and education program that focus on increasing awareness about the dangerous of drugs and alcohol.
The program’s aims to reduce smoking and tobacco use of young people by building life skills that lead to healthy lifestyle choices. It makes known healthy alternatives and coping mechanisms to deal with stress, peer pressure and other common factors that lead youth to drugs and alcohol. It also helps youth understand the consequences and influences of tobacco, drugs and alcohol usage, thus offer healthy alternatives. In order to prevent youth alcohol, drugs and tobacco use the Milwaukee County’s Youth Development Department has implemented a “Health Rocks” program at Brown Street Academy’s Boys and Girls Club and at Holton Youth Center this summer. The Health Rocks curriculum is a healthy living program targeted at young people between the ages 8 to 14 years. Teens and adults facilitators work together to educate youth on the consequences of tobacco, alcohol and drug usage.
The program has had success on a national level, with analysis from 2011 showing that 96% of youth participants gained increased knowledge of the risks and consequences associated with tobacco usage. Social, personal and resistance skills were learned by 95% of youth participants and 96% say that they personally disapprove the using of any tobacco products. These positive statistics are mirrored on a local level by answers given by the group of youth who attended the class two times per-week at the Holton Youth Center, led by AmeriCorps VISTA Sara Jones. Eighty-one of students polled from the group that Sara taught this summer at the Holton Youth Center reported that they understand the differences between legal and illegal drugs, and 91% stated that they understand the negative consequences of using tobacco, alcohol and drugs because of their participation in the Health Rocks program. Unfortunately the classes that were held twice a week at Brown Street Academy ended earlier than expected due to some scheduling conflicts on the part of the school thus an evaluations was not able to be completed.
The “Health Rocks” class was taught by Sara Jones under the leadership of Demetrius Brown, Youth Development Faculty. Every Health Rocks session contained a hands-on activity for the youth, followed by questions and reflective discussion. The Holton Youth Center averaged about 10 female students in each class. The Brown Street Academy was a much larger group that averaged 30 students at each class. The Holton Youth Center was made up of 81% of students identifying as Black or African American and 18 percent who identifying as White and Black or mixed. These statistics represented the community we served which is predominantly African American. The group contained 54 percent fourth graders and 45 percent fifth graders who all resided in Milwaukee.
During the large sessions at Brown Street Academy, high school youth who works at Alice's Garden as part of More Organic Vegetables Everywhere Crew (M.O.V.E.) helped by working with the children in small groups. Encouraged by youth teaching youth philosophies and a common language is one aspect of the program that seems to help promote independence thinkers and leadership among the youth and children that participated. For more information please contact: UWEX Milwaukee County Office.