VALPARAISO | Helping early teens stay away from dangerous substances and make healthy life choices is the focus of a new program kicked off Monday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
Natalie Muskin-Press, a chemical dependency and addiction therapist with Porter-Starke Services, had sixth-grade students trace their hands, then jot down positive words to describe themselves along each finger.
In the palm, students then listed two or three things about themselves they'd like to improve.
Discussion during the activity was about self-image. We act like the person we think we are, Muskin-Press said, but sometimes it's easier to listen to the negatives than to the positives.
While the primary focus is early prevention of substance abuse, the program also is meant to help students with situations such as depression and anxiety, said Elliott Miller, Porter-Starke program director.
The program uses a national curriculum -- studies of which have shown up to an 87 percent reduction in substance abuse among targeted students, Miller said.
During Monday's discussion, one student said he wanted to improve his basketball, while another wanted to work on her relationship with a sister. Another girl said she wanted to be nicer to her family.
Students started a chart in their workbook to track their progress. Evaluations at the end of the program will assess students' growth, acquisition of new skills and level of substance abuse.
By letting parents know about the new program, the hope is to keep the discussion going at home, Muskin-Press said.