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You Make Project ALERT Come Alive

by By Isabel Burk, MS, CHES, CPP
Students face so many challenges during the preteen and teen years.  As a Project ALERT teacher, you can help them to make healthier decisions, to stay safe, to feel connected to others with similar attitudes. Using your connection to your students and to the program’s concepts can really make a difference!

Project ALERT requires critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, applications to real life, and feedback.  Lesson one begins with what students already know, then information is added incrementally through succeeding lessons.  Posters, video segments and small group work help develop additional concepts and connections.  Essential concepts are reinforced consistently.

But the heart of the program, helping youth to develop positive attitudes and beliefs, depends heavily on you, the instructor. Your confidence in the program goals, your faith in their ability to learn and practice skills, and your encouragement, creates an environment where students will be able to try new experiences and strategies and make connections to their own lives.

You already know that middle school youth can be very tuned in to their teachers -- sometimes they are judgmental, often sensitive to nuance.  Students will be checking closely to see what you really think about Project ALERT. They’ll notice your body language, your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and your sincerity.

Students take their cues from you.  For example, looking forward to the next lesson, being proud to show off their work or to discuss connections to the concepts can be contagious. Do your students talk about some posters even after the lesson is over? Do they ask for more time to play the Alcohol Facts Game, or ask what happens to certain characters in the videos? Your enthusiasm and interest in the program pumps energy into the process and the participants.

Research on education confirms that when students have a successful experience, it boosts their self-efficacy, their belief that they are capable. In fact, research reveals that just observing a peer succeed at a task can actually strengthen belief in one's own abilities.

Lesson after lesson, as youth observe peers expressing a range of responses to life-like situations and practice refusal skills in their own words, they gain confidence that they can make healthy decisions--and make them stick.  Even if a particular student is a bit shy, maybe doesn’t speak up in a role play, the experience is still beneficial. You boost students’ self-efficacy with specific feedback such as “You handled that well” or “It sounds like you meant what you said!”  (See Curriculum p. 0.8 for additional ideas.)

In addition, the instructor’s sense of efficacy, belief in his/her ability to teach the material, is a key component to success. If you’re prepping for a lesson, check the Project ALERT website to review it, or download background materials and see the latest alcohol/tobacco/drug news. Connect with others who use the program, by linking to Facebook where you can contribute and get some ideas you can put to use.

Since learning doesn’t exist in isolation, concepts and skills must be reviewed and connected to keep them real and relevant. Even if you’ve completed the core lessons or the booster series, using “teachable moments” will strengthen the learning process and continue to reinforce positive attitudes and healthy beliefs.

Perhaps the group is reading a story or article about someone dealing with alcohol problems. Remind the group about their work on “What Can Happen to You When You Drink Alcohol” in Lesson Three, and review the posters if they are accessible.

In the wake of a celebrity going into treatment, an overdose or death due to alcohol or other drugs, open a discussion of how the celebrity’s parent (or best friend or spouse) might feel, and what impact the substance had on a person’s ability to function.  Here are two ideas worth reinforcing: 1) it can be dangerous to keep some secrets; and, 2) trusted adults such as the school nurse, counselor, a family member or religious leader can be important lifelines for students and their families.

Before spring break, discuss some of the issues and risks when youth become involved with alcohol. At prom time, mention how communities are working to reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related problems out of concern for the health and safety of teens.

In November for the Great American Smokeout, bring back student lists from Lesson One: Reasons Not to Smoke Cigarettes. During December, when alcohol advertising expands dramatically, remind students about ad messages from Lesson Four. Or discuss holiday traffic stops to look for drivers under the influence, or nonalcoholic beverages to enjoy.

February is American Heart Month, so remind youth that heart disease is one of the long-term consequences of smoking cigarettes or using chew/dip.  The opening of baseball season can be an occasion to discuss smokeless tobacco, review negative consequences such as bad breath, racing heart, etc.

The topic isn’t as important as the opportunity to link up their Project ALERT experiences with real life happenings, relevant and right now.

And that’s why you make the difference. Your commitment to the program, to their health, to their future success -- that’s brought to life by you, the instructor. Pat yourself on the back; you make Project ALERT come alive!

Tools for Teaching

Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis (Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, 1993) is chock full of ideas and tips about increasing student motivation. Notice that these are built into Project ALERT lessons!

A sampling of strategies:

•    Frequent, early, positive feedback supports students' beliefs that they can do well.

•    Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.

•    Create an open and positive atmosphere.

•    Help students feel that they are valued members of the learning community.

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