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Health curriculum emphasises decision-making and refusal skills in drug prevention

Students trickled into Rachel Griffin's health class at Lakeridge High School at around 12:20 on Tuesday, Dec.10 and took their seats at desks formed in groups of four or five.

As the class settled, Griffin explained that the day's lesson would focus on decision-making and refusal skills. She asked students to think beyond the scope of health class to see how decision-making and refusal skills come into play in everyday life. PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Lakeridge High School health class.

LOSD uses a skills-based health curriculum and it's applied to teach any health-related topic, even the one on the minds of many lately: vaping. PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Student raises hand to discuss what pressures high schoolers face.

As of this month, 47 people have died nationwide of vaping-related illnesses, including two in Oregon. The outbreak is mostly affecting young people. In 2018, a survey sponsored by the federal government found that 21% of high school seniors had vaped in the past 30 days compared to 11% the previous year.

Vaping products are used by inhaling a flavored tobacco vapor that contains nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in cigarettes.

Griffin said a skills-based curriculum means not just teaching facts and addressing dangers, but also mixing in lessons on refusal skills and how to effectively communicate your feelings. It's a healthy layer of complexity to the overly simplistic "just say no" many of us were taught when it came to drug prevention.

Specifically, teachers give students scenarios of situations they have to practice getting themselves out of. Griffin said this is usually done in pairs in the classroom or as a written assignment. She stays away from presentation-based scenarios because she wants her students to take it seriously and not feel pressure to entertain the class.

She taught the lesson on decision-making and refusal skills right before moving into the lesson on drug and alcohol prevention, which she said was intentional. She wanted her students to understand that these skills are used in everyday life, not just when confronted with the decision of whether to Juul or not. PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Students work in groups to practice refusal skills.

What sport to play, who to be friends with, where to go to college — Griffin said these are all choices that come with their own set of pressures.

"Pressure and discomfort go well beyond sex and drugs," Griffin said.

She told the students to think beyond the cliche of "peer pressure" involving someone actively coercing them into something. Instead, she told them to think of pressure as discomfort. Pressure can be internal or external, implicit or explicit.

Griffin said, "We have always taught tobacco, alcohol, drug prevention since the dawn of time." Vaping is no exception to that, she said.PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Class discusses decision-making and refual skills.

"With vaping and Juuling and e-cigarettes specifically becoming so much more a topic of concern, it's safe to say we have made sure to emphasize it as young as sixth grade," Griffin said.

Griffin noted the stealthy marketing and media influence related to vaping as factors that make teaching on it more challenging. "Part of our job is dispelling those myths,"she said.

Myths she listed included the idea that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, or that the cartridges don't contain nicotine or other harmful ingredients.

"As a district we confront it. We don't pretend it doesn't happen," Griffin said.

The LOJHS Parent Club is hosting an event in Lakeridge High School Auditorium on Wednesday Jan 8 at 6:30 p.m to spread awareness about vaping.


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