© Heather Taweel/The Guardian
A number of agencies, organizations and groups are helping to fund and develop Healthy Me, which replaces the DARE program in Charlottetown. Clockwise from left, are Aaron Ryder, president of the student council at Colonel Gray High School and a member of the Making Waves Group; Julie McCabe, guidance counsellor; Const. Tim Keizer, Tyler Larter, guidance counsellor; and Bill Irwin, member of the Charlottetown Y's Mens Club. Healthy Me, which targets students in Grade 6, aims to help kids cope with many of the challenges today's world can throw at them.
Charlottetown Police Services has launched a new program that aims to help elementary and junior high students cope with life's challenges.
The program focuses on educating them about drug abuse, mental health and being safe on the Internet.
Called Healthy Me, it will replace the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which taught students about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco use. Healthy Me covers a wider variety of issues relating to drug prevention, social media and mental health.
The program teaches students how to build social and emotional skills with a focus on Internet safety and coping skills for difficult situations.
Aaron Ryder, president of the Colonel Gray High School student council and a member of the Making Waves Group that helped develop the new program, said today's social media world creates pressures that exist 24 hours a day.
"We're equipping these students with the skills to face those kinds of challenges,'' Ryder said. "It will give them a coping mechanism. As a high school student, it fills some of the gaps that I wish I had.''
Several police officers have received specialized training on Healthy Me, which is scheduled to begin in Charlottetown area schools after the March Break. It is targeted at students in Grade 6 but can be adapted to include students in Grades 7-9.
Julie McCabe, a guidance counsellor, said the new program tackles up-to-date issues facing children.
"As they navigate through normal adolescent development we're trying to give them some tools that help them figure out who they are as people,'' McCabe said, "and make healthy choices to promote positive mental health.''
Const. Tim Keizer has devoted much of his time the past few years talking to students. He even integrated himself into Colonel Gray.
Keizer said in all the conversations he had with students he discovered they were facing many issues relating to social media, bullying and mental health. And they didn't have the skills to cope.
"They say they can't cope, they can't deal with stuff. They're losing a sense of who they are, and this is all stuff that was not talked about in DARE,'' Keizer said, in describing how some students turn to things like prescription drugs.
"So, we said we've got to get kids to get in touch with themselves first before we sit there and tell them drugs are bad for their body. They're not understanding how they're getting to that point, what is driving the bus.''
Keizer said students sometimes don't realize, for example, the impact sending pictures of themselves to others can have.
"They don't understand the Internet is written in pen, not pencil. Then, all of a sudden, they become the centre of bullying, and it's still very different for a guy to send a picture out than a girl.''
Keizer says there are high school students who are "putting their fist through the gyprock and freaking out because they don't know how to cope."
Once coping strategies are discussed, the program deals with alcohol, marijuana and chewing tobacco which, Keizer says, kids are doing.
"The way Healthy Me is set up, you go after topics of the day. We've got a lot jammed into a four-lesson program.''