Dee Edwards-Smith remembers watching a class of Carteret County elementary school students stumble through a three-legged race that was part of a 4-H Health Rocks! lesson.
“After the race, their teacher asked them how they felt,” she says. “And they said ‘burdened,’ ‘dragged down’ and ‘tired.’”
“Their teacher told them that these are the same things a person feels when they are addicted,” recalls Smith, who works with the 4-H program in Carteret.
“The kids were quiet, and you could see the light bulbs going off.”
It was one of several light-bulb moments Smith says she’s encountered as she’s partnered with teachers at all the county’s elementary and middle schools to incorporate Health Rocks! into their classrooms.
In 2015, about 6,000 North Carolinians ages eight to 14 took part in Health Rocks!, a set of interactive, eye-opening lessons focused on reducing their use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs.
North Carolina’s 4-H Health Rocks! Coordinator Salim Oden says that the curriculum not only aligns with national and state educational standards, it’s flexible enough to be used in clubs, after-school groups and other settings. Every fall, 4-H brings together teens to train them in carrying out the program with adults in their communities. That effort is known as Teens Reaching Youth Through Innovative Teams, or TRY-IT.
With 4-H’s Amy Chilcote, Autumn Guin and Dr. Shannon McCollum, Oden is part of the team that carries out and evaluates Health Rocks! at the state level. Oden says the program goes beyond the just-say-no focus of other campaigns, helping young people learn about the long-term health consequences of risky behaviors while developing their skills in critical thinking, setting goals, making decisions, communicating and managing feelings and stress.
Sue Krueser, director of testing, assessment and student achievement for Carteret County Public Schools, says that while measuring the impact of a program like Health Rocks! can be difficult, teachers appreciate the fun, age-appropriate activities and flexibility that the curriculum provides.
“It’s really a benefit to everyone to share in a partnership across our community, sending a message to students that we are here to support them and develop relationships with them that extend beyond the school walls,” she says. “So if our community endorses the idea that it’s important to make healthy choices and good decisions – and if we reduce the tobacco, alcohol and drug use among our young people – our community can only be a better place.”
The 4-H Health Rocks! partnership grew recently, when 4-H joined as an official partner of North Carolina ABC Commission’s Talk It Out campaign, which educates youth and their parents about the dangers of alcohol and underage drinking.
Commission Chairman Jim Gardner said the commission looks forward “to helping 4-H reach more children across our state and working together to help parents and children to have honest discussions to reduce underage drinking and other drug use.”
More information about 4-H Health Rocks! is available online. 4-H, conducted by North Carolina Cooperative Extension, is the state’s largest youth-development program, reaching hundreds of thousands of young people each year.