By TIM CLEVELAND
With drug and alcohol abuse becoming more prevalent, the Diocese of Youngstown has taken a leadership role in helping to combat the problem by implementing a program called Brain Power into all 36 of its schools in Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula, Stark, Columbiana and Portage counties, covering 7,000 students in all.
On May 9, Mike Senchak represented the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation and the Coalition for a Drug Free Mahoning County in presenting a check for $30,000 to the Diocese of Youngstown at the offices of Lumen Christi Schools.
“I felt there was a need for this for our children,” Senchak said. “The ‘Just Say No’ campaign has been proven to not be effective. The DARE program has been found to not be effective. We have to start substance-abuse education at the youngest of age and we have to do it continuously.”
Lumen Christi Schools Marketing Director Kitty Brown was asked how the program got started.
“One of our board members, Dave Stewart, is also on the Coalition for a Drug Free Mahoning County board,” she said. “He saw a nice marriage between the two and worked very hard to bring in this Brain Power program, which is with the Coalition for a Drug Free Mahoning County. He brought the program in and it was so well received that it’s actually expanded to the entire Diocese. Every elementary and high school in the Diocese of Youngstown is going through this program.”
The money will go toward materials the students will use, training the teachers to implement the program in classrooms and followup, research and reports.
“Brain Power is a science-based curriculum that’s also a prevention program,” said Drug Awareness and Prevention Executive Director Nancy Pommerening. “The concept behind the program is if we teach children the science behind addiction and explain to them what’s happening in the brain, they will have the knowledge to make wise decisions as they grow. In the past we’ve waited too long to give them this information. It’s not a program to scare people. It’s based on the theory of reason to action. If we know what’s good for us and what’s not good for us, most of us are going to make the choice to avoid things that are going to harm us.”
Pommerening added that the program is different from most others in that it is taught every year to students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Senchak and Pommerening said it has been difficult to get the program going across the state due to inaction by Ohio’s politicians.
“Ohio is one of about six states that does not mandate alcohol and substance abuse education in our schools,” Senchak said. “We know that to get that done in the state, that has to go through the legislature. They have not taken up that effort. Until then, it is up to each school district to offer something.”
“We have lots of support from across the state, but it doesn’t ever lead anywhere, at least at this point,” Pommerening said.
Senchak said he has made personal pleas to area public school districts to implement the Brain Power program with little success.
“We’ve made overtures to the public officials, to the public departments,” he said. “We’ve made overtures to some of the public schools. Three of the public schools locally – Austintown, South Range and Sebring – are evaluating it. But Diocese of Youngstown saw the program and acted on it.”
He said Youngstown Christian Schools will begin the program next year.
Senchak said he met with the Canfield superintendent personally, but has not heard back as of yet. He added that any school district in Trumbull or Mahoning county that wishes to have the program started in their school district can get in contact with him and he will ensure the district will receive the grant money needed.