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Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Prevention efforts scaled back

District lacks funding for programming to help teens after federal grant expires

February 7, 2007

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Prevention specialists

Diane Ash, one of three prevention specialists in the school district, talks about what her job entails. Enlarge video

Prevention specialists - the people who help Lawrence public school students deal with issues before they become serious problems - are spread thin in the school district.

A grant that once helped put one full-time prevention worker in every school has expired, leaving a few to do the job.

"Obviously, when there's fewer people, there's just less programming, less services you can offer," said Diane Ash, a full-time prevention specialist - one of three remaining in the district - at Lawrence High School. "Most of prevention is very program-driven, and a person has to be there to drive that programming."

Ash and the other two specialists work with students to intervene or prevent drug and alcohol issues, and consult with parents. They also provide advice about teen issues such as eating disorders, bullies and sexual abuse.

The three-year, $3 million grant for the specialists expired last year, and the district couldn't come up with the money to fund them alone.

"Even though they realize the efforts made by prevention specialists would affect grades and academics, it's difficult for them to come up with that money because of the other demands that have been placed on them," said Chris Squier, director of the Safe Schools Healthy Students grant, which funded the additional specialists.

Now, with just one full-time person at each high school and one responsible for all four junior highs, Ash and her colleagues say they are spread too thin.

'Prevention Specialists' are spread thin in the Lawrence School District

Those people who help students with issues before they become serious problems are hard to find in the Lawrence area. Enlarge video

"We know at the highschool level that we could easily keep two full-time prevention people busy at each building," Ash said. "It would increase the number of students we could meet with for the alcohol and drug issues. We would do pretty much the same amount of programming, events and things like that."

The community has intervened before to fund school-based programs. Last year, the city and county agreed to help support the Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities mentalhealth program, each paying $300,000.

Now Squier and Ash are hoping for a similar rescue.

"We're looking at local funding. We're looking at state funding, federal funding, though there's not a lot of state and federal," Squier said.

In the meantime, they said, the work is still needed.

"The bottom line is that where there are fewer people," Ash said, "there are just fewer students you can impact."

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