On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Mound Westonka High School was paid a visit by an organization called Know the Truth. This group brings in speakers who all have experience overcoming addictions and are 18 to 30 years old. The speakers create an open dialogue with the students and create a safe space to answer any questions, and to help address any misunderstandings the students may have.
“We want to reinforce what’s already being taught in the health classes, but we recognize that there are some things like firsthand experience, questions that a textbook can’t answer, and so they go in and they inform the students about gateway drugs and the dangers of that,” says Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge Prevention Education Manager Sadie Holland. “But really it’s about asking the students what they believe about it because those tend to be the drugs that are seen as less harmful or where students make justifications as to why that’s not bad. And so it’s really just asking the students what they know about it and then addressing any misconceptions the students might have about those chemicals.”
According to Holland, one of the biggest misconceptions that students have right now is about marijuana. “We find that students don’t know a lot about marijuana and especially with the legalization I think that they hear it being legalized and so they assume that it’s not harmful,” says Holland. “I would say marijuana is one of the biggest hot button topics that the students like to talk about because they have their own opinions on it, and then the other one is prescription pills. I think there’s a huge misconception that just because they’re from a doctor they can’t be harmful, but we’re keeping students aware of the severe criminal consequences that can come from giving your medications away, selling your medications, or taking one that’s not prescribed to you.”
However, Know the Truth doesn’t just focus on educating students, but also on learning from them to turn around and educate the community at large about trends in teen drug use. This year the organization will be hosting a conference on April 25th for professionals, parents, and community members who want to learn more about youth substance use.
“While we educate the students we also hear from them, and then what we hear from them gives us the opportunity to educate the adults on what are the current drug trends and what are students calling these pills or these drugs that they’re using, how are they getting it, how are they hiding it from their parents, all those kinds of things and so we also do community education to tell parents what those warning signs might be, things to look for if they’re worried about their child, and then also ways to get their child help too if they get to that point,” says Holland.
Know the Truth speakers were invited to the classroom of health and physical education teacher John Wardlow. He says, “Know the Truth offers authentic and relevant presentations for the students that I cannot replicate through direct instruction or book work. The presentations they offer provoke thought among the students and lay the foundation for learning and deeper dialogue long after the presenters leave.”
Wardlow adds, “In an environment where there is so much information and misinformation that students can access in regards to chemical use, it is so nice to have people with real world experience to come into my class and share struggles and success with students from a first-hand perspective. The presenters don’t sugar coat anything when it comes to their experiences, and that style of delivery connects well with the students, creating an excellent opportunity for the students to learn.”