"It benefits no one for us to pretend we don't have a problem."
Those are the words of Angie Smith, director of health education at the Huron County health department, regarding the drug problem in the area. Norwalk offers the DARE program to fifth graders throughout the city, but that is not enough.
So in an attempt to combat the drug problem, the city has launched a partnership with the Huron County health department and the Norwalk public and parochial schools to expand the substance abuse prevention program. It will cost $16,000 to administer, and it will be paid for collaboratively by the city and schools as well as through grants and donations.
"We have a community problem. It's going to take a community effort to solve it," said Norwalk Superintendent Wayne Babcanec. "It became very obvious to us, after our recent investigation about the possibility of implementing random drug testing, that we need to do more."
The program, called LifeSkills Training, will start in the fall and be implemented with third-, fourth-, seventh- and ninth- or 10th-graders.
"It's a progressive time table," said Walt Klimaski, president of Norwalk Catholic School. "We're taking the offense instead of trying to play defense all the time."
LifeSkills focuses on building self confidence and teaching children how to refuse drugs.
"LifeSkills Training works because it shifts the peer culture," Smith said. The program not only targets illegal drug use but alcohol and tobacco as well.
While everyone involved raved about the collaborative, multi-layered approach, there is one other group that will have a large role to play parents.
"(Parents) have the proximity and authority to stand between children and substance abuse," Smith said.
LifeSkills Training has the endorsement of a number of national health and education organizations and is considered a "model program" by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A SAMHSA review found that the program decreases tobacco use by 67 percent, alcohol by 54 percent, marijuana by 71 percent and multiple drug use by 66 percent.
In tandem with the new program, the city will continue the DARE program, which started in 1990. Norwalk Police Chief Kevin Cashen said that, while many studies show DARE is ineffective, he feels it works in smaller communities, such as Norwalk.
"How do you quantify something that you can't prove didn't happen?" he wondered.
Norwalk Curriculum Director Sue Goodsite said she has seen the tangible results of the DARE program through the officers' interaction with students.
"In a great big city that might not be happening, but in a place like Norwalk that's powerful," she said.