Special to the Gazette
Going into high school, students have a lot of things thrown their way, and can sometimes fall in with the wrong crowd, subjected to peer pressure and introduced to drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.
Two new programs from the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Stratford Police Service teach kids about making the right decisions before they enter high school, and how to face these problems on their own.
The OPP's new program, KIDS (Knowledge, Issues, Decisions, and Supports), is replacing an older and outdated program called Values, Influences and Peers (VIP).
VIP was used for over 25 years and was a great success, but was in need of updating to reflect today's issues.
Perth County OPP Const. Kees Wijnands says he was teaching the VIP program last year and was having to add content to make it modern and relevant.
KIDS is for Grade 6 students in OPP controlled areas within the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board and Avon Maitland District School Board. It runs six weeks for one hour a week.
The new KIDS program was started as a tool to talk to young people about decision making and supports available to them. Officers will be discussing issues with the students they may face and the consequences of their decisions.
The program now incorporates new technology. Officers teaching the program will use workbooks, videos and interactive games to help get the kids engaged. It will also cover topics more extensively that were only briefly touched on in VIP.
New topics covered includes mental well-being, cyber bullying, self-victimization, youth and the law, and peer to peer relationships.
In the VIP program mental well-being was only briefly touched on. The new program promotes understanding and respect. Wijnands says the hope is the program will help kids accept their peers with mental health problems, and encourage those who have problems to seek help.
Wijnands says that self-victimization, which is putting yourself in the position to be a victim, can include getting into drugs and alcohol, going to the wrong parties, putting too much information about yourself on the Internet, and sexting- the act of sending sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone.
Wijnands, who will be one of the four officers teaching the KIDS program, says he's excited to interact with the students.
It's a way of getting to know the kids before they go into high school, he adds.
The Stratford police is also relaunching its DARE program. It is now called DARE: Keeping it Real.
The DARE program lasts 10 weeks, 45-50 minutes each week.
It is similar to the old program but deals more with making responsible choices, giving the students tools to prepare them for high school, and alcohol and tobacco use. Drug use is also touched on.
Students will encounter a more hands-on approach to the program. Rather than sitting and listening to the officer speaking, students will be given made-up scenarios that they will work through on their own.
Another feature of the program will be an "ask box" where students can leave questions anonymously and the officer will answer them.