Friday, August 04, 2017

Rural teachers fight opioid epidemic by using best-selling book Dreamland to teach about it

Scioto County, Ohio
(Wikipedia map)
Lawmakers and communities all over the country, especially in rural areas, are scrambling to find ways to combat the opioid epidemic. One teacher in southeast Ohio had a novel solution: teach high-school students about the crisis to forewarn and forearm them. When history teacher Cyndy Hykes read Sam Quinones' book Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opioid Epidemic, which includes much reporting from their region, she immediately saw its potential as a cross-curricular teaching tool. "She thought it provided valuable insight about the outside forces shaping the opioid crisis in their community and explained why the author deemed Appalachia the canary in our societal coal mine for opioids," Martin Blank writes for The Huffington Post. Black is the director of the Coalition for Community Schools, based at the Institute for Educational Leadership.

In fall 2016, Hykes and an English teacher colleague, Judy Ellsesser, began teaching the material to students at South Webster Junior-Senior High, a school of 650 students in Scioto County. "During English class, Ellsesser worked through the text with the students, thinking critically about the information. Then with Hykes in history, the students learned more about the political side of the crisis and the policies affecting the epidemic; they also learned about how they could get involved. The math teacher, Matthew Whitt, was also involved. He helped students analyze and understand the statistical information in the book documenting opioid use and deaths," Black reports.

The teachers also brought in guest speakers such as a judge who spoke about the spike in foster care and babies born addicted, as well as current efforts to focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment for drug offenders. U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio talked to the kids about how politics and government affect the area's opioid epidemic, and encouraged students to speak up on issues to their representatives.

The students became heavily engaged in the project, creating public service announcements and volunteering at the local hospital to hold babies born with an addiction. The teachers report that the project was a success with high community support, and that they intend to teach it again. "It is real-life stuff that shows students how these things shape their life and how they can have a role in it," Hykes told Black.

No comments: