By Kathrin Klenshteyn
MARTINSVILLE, Va., - With a Blackhawk helicopter, Humvees and a race car on school grounds, it is not hard to get students’ attention.
And once the National Guard officers had the Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School students’ attention Thursday, they launched an anti-drug program called “Stay on Track.”
The kickoff at the middle school was the first in Virginia, said Chief Warrant Officer Thomas French, one of the program’s organizers, because that school was the first to work out scheduling and other details.
The program is sponsored by the National Guard Bureau, based in Washington, D.C.
Stay on Track is a 12-lesson program that combines drug use prevention with the appeal of motorsports to combat peer pressure in middle schools, said Sgt. Kenneth Muse, who teaches the program at Fieldale-Collinsville and Laurel Park middle schools.
After speaking to students in the school’s gym, the officers led the students outside to have pictures taken in front the National Guard race car, some Army Humvee vehicles and the highlight of the day, a Blackhawk helicopter. Cup or Busch car? what number?
“Cool,” “awesome” and “interesting” were some of the adjectives students used over and over again when asked what they thought of the program and its kickoff.
Sixth-grader Tyler Byrd, son of Charles and Sarah Byrd, said the program “gives you courage to say ‘no.’”
Stay on Track is tied to motorsports because just as a car must be kept in good condition to run well, so must a body be taken care of to stay in good health, Muse said.
“It takes a team to win a race,” he said. The pit crew, crew chief and driver must communicate effectively.
In the “Stay on Track” program, students are compared to drivers. Muse is the crew chief, and the physical education teachers who participate in the program are the spotters who tell the driver where he or she is on the track in relation to other cars.
That is why parents have an important role in “Stay on Track,” said French.
According to Muse, the program’s homework requires students to talk to their parents to answer some of the questions, opening a line of communication.
French said this communication is positive, as opposed to the commonly negative communication that happens after a parent notices his or her child might be using drugs or alcohol.
“It gives the parent the opportunity to talk to their children about difficult decisions,” such as giving in to peer pressure to take drugs, he said.
In addition, the program focuses on effective strategies for teamwork, keeping the body healthy, learning to cope with stressful situations, being able to make split-second decisions and setting and achieving goals, National Guard literature states.
Speaking to the crowd of students in the school’s gym, Muse said there are two kinds of pressure: positive and negative.
The people in the students’ lives that give them positive pressure, such as to complete their homework, do so because “they want you to succeed,” he said.
“They know how hard life is outside of these walls,” he said. “Freedom isn’t free. We believe that all of you are the future.”
He also told the students if they could handle the positive stress in their lives, they also can handle the negative, such as peer pressure to make poor decisions.
Sixth-grade English and social studies teacher Kathy Thacker said that if one student was encouraged to stay off drugs, the program was effective.
“Anything to motivate any of these students is worthwhile,” she said.
French said the program aims to give students the self-confidence they need not to give in to peer pressure. He said instructors tell students that peers who would pressure them to make certain decisions are “not who you want to fit in with.”
Lt. Col. Colleen Chipper, Virginia National Guard counter-drug coordinator, said 11 states in the country are participating in the pilot program, which is set to be fully functional next year.
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