Kansas City Anti-Drug Program Wins National Praise
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Project STAR has turned on many young people in Kansas City to the high of keeping their friends while turning down their offers of alcohol or drugs. It takes more than just saying ″no.″
″We investigated the programs based on being scared or morals and they just don’t work,″ said project founder, Ewing Kauffman. ″Ours does.″
Kauffman, the owner of the Kansas City Royals baseball team and founder of Marion Laboratories, now Marion Merrell Dow, has contributed more than $3 million to the 6-year-old program.
Project STAR (Students Taught Awareness and Resistance) has reached about 300,000 students in Missouri and Kansas since it began. All 15 public school districts in the Kansas City area, and many private schools, participate in the project, said Calvin Cormack, executive director. It also is taught in Indiana and most of Missouri and Kansas.
STAR recently received national recognition after a five-year study by the Midwestern Drug Abuse Prevention Research Project showed that students who went through the program were significantly less likely to use drugs or to drink than other students.
Kauffman says young people do drugs because of peer pressure.
″If you belong to a group of four or five girls and they want another one to smoke marijuana, she wants to remain in the group and keep her friends,″ he said. ’And just saying ″no″ won’t get the job done, because they ask you again and again.
″So we teach a dozen different ways to say ‘no.’ Like ’I’m afraid to smoke because my father will whip me until I tell him and then he’ll call your father,‴ he said.
Katie Aholt, 13, went through STAR at Pleasant Lea Jr. High School in Lee’s Summit and said she learned a lot about saying ‘no.’
″I really didn’t know, before, how to say it without hurting my friends’ feelings. But now I can do it and still keep my friends,″ she said.
Talking to her parents is easier now, too.
″Now if one of my friends approached me (with drugs) I could just sit down and talk to my parents,″ she said. ″And before, I really didn’t know how serious it can be to your body, and how it can change you.″
Charles R. Schuster, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which paid for the evaluation of Project STAR, praised the program for getting schools, parents, the media and community groups to work together in ″changing the social norms for drug use and providing a healthy drug-free environment for all people.″
The study concluded that 14.2 percent of Project STAR alumni now juniors or seniors in high school smoked marijuana in the month before they were surveyed, compared with 20.2 percent who did not go through STAR. For alcohol, 36 percent of Project STAR high schoolers drank alcohol in the preceding month, compared with 50 percent of those not in program.
Classroom lessons begin in the seventh grade, which Cormack called a critical time.
″Onset patterns show most kids get involved (in drugs) between the ages of 10 and 15, so those are critical decision years,″ he said.
Katie said kids like the program because it makes talk about drugs and alcohol realistic. Scare stories don’t work, in her view.
″I think kids get into it because there are activities and role-playing and stuff. It’s more real,″ she said.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan saw STAR in action in 1986 during a visit to Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Kansas City. Students put on a skit showing how to refuse drugs, while Mrs. Reagan watched and then asked a few questions.
She seemed surprised when she asked students at the inner-city school if they had used drugs - and no hands went up. The response did not surprise Robbie Alexander, who teaches at King and trains other teachers in STAR curriculum.
″The kids really wanted to refuse but they didn’t know how. This teaches kids to refuse ... in a friendly, assertive manner without hurting their feelings,″ she said. ″And we aren’t telling them not to do drugs; we let them make a decision.″
Tactics made famous by programs such as ″Scared Straight″ are ignored. Instead, students make lists of the consequences - good and bad - of using drugs or alcohol.
″We use their minds instead,″ she said. ″If you bring in an ex-convict who tells them what she went through, the kids say ’Well she looks all right now, she came through it; so could I.‴
Parents get involved by helping with homework assignments, which gives them an opening to discuss a tough subject.
″I have highly educated men and women telling me that through Project STAR, this is the first time they can talk to their kids about alcohol and drugs,″ Kauffman said.