Changing Course in Rural Idaho
For the native and non-native children and families of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in northern Idaho, multigenerational alcohol consumption rates are 25 percent higher than the national average. Since 1995, Students for Success—a community collaboration based in Lapwai, ID—has offered services to combat substance abuse. But to attack the root causes of substance abuse, they needed to expand the scope of their work. To accomplish this, the community needed two things: funding and collaboration among schools, parents, and community institutions throughout Nez Perce. A Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grant in 2004 provided them the opportunity to build this collaboration.
|“We’ve always known that substance abuse and mental health issues go hand in hand, but this grant has permitted us our first chance to really integrate our approach to these issues..”
project director, Students
for Success, Lapwai, ID
Managed by Students for Success, the Idaho SS/HS Consortium brought together schools and community organizations in Kamiah, Kooskia, and Lapwai to form a reservation-wide partnership. Using the funds from their SS/HS grant as seed money, the collaboration has focused their efforts on addressing mental health issues, preventing violence, and breaking the cycle of substance abuse.
”When we look at sustaining our Safe Schools initiative, we’re looking at more than just programs and services. We’re really looking at the positive outcomes that we’ve seen as a result of stronger alliances between schools and community partners, particularly in the areas of mental health and substance abuse,” says Project Director Joyce McFarland. The initiative has enabled all three communities to reach out to each other to learn more about each community’s values and needs, resulting in new and enriched partnerships. These stronger partnerships have been at the core of combatting substance abuse and promoting mental health services for all children throughout the reservation.”
Reaching Across the Community
In classrooms, students learn to make healthy choices through the use of evidence-based curricula, including Second Step and LifeSkills. These two programs enhance social and emotional learning so that children can be resilient to the problems and stressors they face as they grow and develop. Through their Student Assistance Program, at-risk youth in need of assistance are identified, referred to relevant helping agencies, and provided with counseling services as needed. The Idaho SS/HS Consortium has introduced after-school activities, including sports, drug-free dances, and academic and attendance incentive programs to provide students with constructive outlets after the school day’s last bell rings.
For families, the Idaho SS/HS Consortium offers Guiding Good Choices, a program that helps teach parents how to talk to their kids about substance abuse, strengthen bonds with their children, and manage conflicts at home.
As part of their efforts to reach out and learn more about each community’s values and needs, the initiative has begun the Communities Mobilizing for Change in Alcohol program to assess community norms around underage drinking. Lapwai and Kamiah conducted a survey of area adults in 2005 to gauge beliefs about alcohol consumption. Results from the survey indicated that area women, in particular, recognized the extent of the problem, and the Idaho SS/HS Consortium looks forward to working with this population to help create change in the community. The Clearwater Valley school district in Kooskia completed the survey in 2006. Additionally, both Lapwai and Kamiah conduct town hall meetings to discuss underage drinking, and one key outcome has been extensive community mobilization to increase youth participation in tackling this issue.
A strategic communications plan has been an important part of the Lapwai SS/HS initiative’s early success. With assistance from the SS/HS Communications Team, the Students for Success staff members received training in Web page development and created a series of brochures and publications designed to increase participation in the initiative’s programs and services. Recently, Lapwai completed a public service announcement as part of their campaign to reduce tobacco use in the community. Partner resources are now shared through a listserv.
Creating Lasting Change Through Partnerships
The initiative’s strengthened community partnerships will be the key to sustaining its programs and activities. “The community component of this grant is going to be critical to making lasting change,” says McFarland. “We’ve always known that substance abuse and mental health issues go hand in hand, but this grant has permitted us our first chance to really integrate our approach to these issues. Working with SS/HS creates a link between our communities and schools that wasn’t apparent before this grant.”
The Lapwai SS/HS initiative also has created peer clinical groups that bring together school-based counselors and local mental health partners through regular meetings to discuss and share practices in order to provide continuity in services received by students and families. “The peer clinical group meetings have improved dialog and deepened that school-community partnership. It’s been an important experience for everyone involved,” says McFarland.
In addition, Lapwai, Clearwater Valley, and Kamiah have each conducted school safety needs assessments and implemented new school safety measures, including cameras in hallways and school resource officers in two schools. The officers spend time with students and give safety presentations at elementary, middle, and high school campuses. These improvements, coupled with improved communication among the police, community members, and school personnel, are helping each community address student behavioral and mental health issues in a collaborative way.
In addition to building strong community partnerships that will last far beyond the life of the grant funding, Students for Success is confident that school-based model programs embraced by teachers will remain a key part of their legacy. Building on the strong partnerships fostered by the SS/HS initiative, community partners are now exploring ways to sustain mental health services. In spite of limited resources and demographic challenges, the communities of the Idaho SS/HS Consortium are moving forward, one step at a time, toward their goal of reducing substance abuse and promoting mental health for all children on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.
Communities on the Road to Success: Lapwai, ID
The Lapwai SS/HS initiative serves three tribal and rural communities in northern Idaho (Lapwai, Kooskia, and Kamiah) that face excessive levels of generational alcoholism and poverty, resulting in a number of at-risk students well above the national average. Managed by the tribal program Students for Success, the local initiative offers students and families programs, such as Second Step and Guiding Good Choices, that counter generational substance abuse by teaching the skills needed to make healthy choices. To maximize their effectiveness and sustain their work, these three communities have formed the Idaho Consortium to seek a better understanding of the causes and perceptions of at-risk behaviors through surveys, focus groups, and ongoing community dialog.