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Drug prevention program begins

Public health nurse Maggie Lattery, left, helps Northern Lights Elementary School third grader Brett Wall build a paper chain featuring the names of friends, family members, teachers and trusted adults he can go to if he is feeling stress. The activity was part of the “Too Good for Drugs” program being piloted at Northern Lights and Great Lakes elementary schools. (Jed Carlson/

By Maria Lockwood

A rolling robot and color-changing pencils caught the attention of third-grade students at Northern Lights Elementary School Tuesday.

“The kids love the robot,” said Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec. He and public health nurse Maggie Lattery tag along with Otto each week to give kids the message that they’re “Too Good for Drugs.”

Tuesday, the children discussed stress. When Lattery asked what causes stress, the students piped up with “cleaning your room,” “siblings,” “doing the dishes” and “my brother.” Teacher Anne Gronski added dealing with bullies, uncomfortable situations and being a new student at the school. Tests can also cause stress, said teacher Mary Zastrow.

Lattery asked the students what they do to relax — exercise, lay down, drink water and play with a dog were mentioned. While many children mentioned places close to home where they can relax, like the aquarium or their bedroom, one boy made a suggestion many of the adults agreed with.

“Florida,” he said.

Later, the children wrote down names of family members, teachers and adults in the community. They cut out the strips and made personal paper chains.

“Every time you think of somebody special to you or you make a new friend, add a link to the chain,” Lattery said. “Then you’ll always know who to go to when you’re stressed.”

The “Too Good for Drugs” program was launched by the County Health Improvement Plan steering committee with money donated from the community.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Dalbec, who used donations formerly earmarked for pamphlets on child safety topics to fund the program.

“Our goal is to present information to kids at an appropriate age without adding to the teachers’ burden and with no additional funding,” said Betsy Byler, a member of the CHIP steering committee.

It’s something new in terms of drug prevention education, with committee members donating their time to teach the six-week pilot program at Northern Lights and Great Lakes elementary schools.

“Our plan and hope is to expand it to all third-grade students in Superior, Maple and Solon Springs next year,” Dalbec said.

Past DARE drug awareness programing was focused on fifth-graders. “Too Good for Drugs” is being presented to third-graders.

“They’re young enough that they probably haven’t had the exposure and peer pressure into tobacco and alcohol,” the sheriff said. The curriculum includes workbooks, puzzles and activities to help kids focus on staying drug and alcohol free and a remote-control robot for each school.

Byler, an outpatient and youth treatment coordinator with Human Development Center, said national statistics show the average age children first try drugs and alcohol has dropped to 12. By the age of 15, half of teens have had at least one drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Locally young people tend to first use during the summer between fifth and sixth grade, according to Byler.

“Prevention is where you get more bang for the buck,” she said, and the schools were open to starting the new “Too Good for Drugs Program.”

Businesses and individual donors provided the nearly $4,000 seed money for the program. Usually, the funding goes toward pamphlets from the National Child Safety Council. In future years, funds will be earmarked for “Too Good for Drugs.” Anyone can make a tax-deductible donation to the program through the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office or the Douglas County CHIP.