La Grande SD B.E.S.T. Program
At their January board meeting, School Board members in the La Grande School District learned about a new program for fifth graders that focuses on prevention of substance and drug abuse in youth. Justin Hernandez, the district’s School Resource Deputy (SRD), Teresa Dowdy, Counselor at Central Elementary, and Scott Carpenter, the Assistant Superintendent, presented the B.E.S.T. program.
A district team made the recommendation to move from providing the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program that focused on broadly on drug prevention and goal setting to a more targeted program that is longer and emphasizes the decision-making process, avoidance strategies and building a positive network of support. Based on recommendations from the team, a smaller team with significant training and experience with mental health and drug abuse prevention (Hernandez, Dowdy and Carpenter) developed the lessons and materials that were piloted this year. The new program is called B.E.S.T. and stands for: Be Aware, Evaluate, Stand Up/Speak Up, Take Time to Talk to Your Team. The program also promotes the message, “Becoming the BEST version of ME!”
The curriculum encompasses lessons about responding to peer pressure, strategies for resistance, creating a network of support team for yourself, information about alcohol, tobacco/vaping, marijuana, legal and illegal drugs and is supplemental to lessons provided annually from Safer Smarter Kids and The Great Body Shop.
B.E.S.T. is taught twice a week for seven weeks to LGSD fifth graders at all three elementary schools by Hernandez in their classrooms. The curriculum’s student activity booklet ends with a pledge that students can sign to affirm their decision to be drug-free. Upon completion of the program, B.E.S.T. graduation ceremonies occur at the schools with parents and families invited to attend.
Officer Hernandez said he enjoys working through scenarios with the students and implementing the B.E.S.T. decision making model. He also likes building relationships with the kids while providing valuable information to them.
“My goal is for the students to learn the harmful effect of legal and illegal substances. I also want them to understand the B.E.S.T. decision making model is not just about drugs. It can be utilized as a tool, and I hope they take it with them throughout their lives,” Hernandez said.
Dowdy said any opportunity to have conversations with students about drugs and alcohol has the potential to make a difference. “We don’t know how a lesson, conversation, comment or observation might impact a student’s decision. One comment from a teacher, parent, resource officer, friend or coach might very well change a student's life.” She said she likes that B.E.S.T. works toward developing the whole student and that improving self-esteem and living a healthy lifestyle are embedded in the curriculum. “Many topics in the book trickle to other challenges students may have throughout their lives.”
B.E.S.T. replaces the D.A.R.E. curriculum, which was used previously by the school district. B.E.S.T. is part of LGSD’s overall Student Drug and Alcohol Prevention Plan, which also includes K-12 health education curriculum, staff member training and collaboration with community agencies and activities.