I visited St Bede for the third time this Monday, and it was nice to see all the Christmas decorations on campus. Here is a summary of my visit:
4th Grade – Under Whose Influence
My discussion with the 4th Grade revolved around peer pressure and alcohol. After warming them up with some words puzzles, I read the class a short “choose your own adventure” novel called Under Whose Influence.
The book tells the story of a middle-school girl that goes to a classmates house to study and is unexpectedly given the choice to drink alcohol. Depending on the choices made by the class (majority rules), the main character might be peer pressured, she might choose to stay in the house or leave, drink or not drink, or whether to keep the incident a secret or tell her mom. The story changes depending on the choice and the consequences of each choice are described for the students to hear.
This group of 4th graders picked a path in the book that I’ve never had to read before (most classes vote the same way), so I was in suspense too! After we finished the story, I spent the end of the class going through the branches that they didn’t choose.
5th Grade – Time to Make A Good Decision
My third day with the 5th graders was spent talking about decision making. At the beginning of the class the kids broke up into groups and played a decision-making game. There are 12 scenario cards (an example is pictured above); the kids take turns reading the cards and then they reveal their answers Rock, Paper, Scissors style with the Yes, No and Maybe cards.
Some of the themes and topics we covered include:
- You have a chance to cheat; what do you do?
- A friend tells you a secret; do you tell?
- You find a wallet with money and an ID; do you try to return it?
- Your mom tells you to do your homework and read for a specific amount of time, but you want to watch TV; do you obey mom’s orders?
- You see a student doing something dangerous at school; do you tell a teacher?
- You break something at your friend’s house and they get blamed; do you speak up?
The kids really got into it, and we finished the class by talking about some of the scenarios as a group. I emphasized that our decisions shape who we are and how others see us; I want the kids to understand that having integrity and doing the right thing is a habit that needs to be ingrained just like brushing your teeth and eating healthy.
Almost all 5th graders have a good handle on what is right and what is wrong when it comes to these types of decisions. However, kids that age (and sometimes adults too) would rather come up with elaborate reasons to justify doing what’s wrong instead of just keeping it simple, fair and nice and doing what’s right.
6th Grade – Caffeine and Stimulants
During this lesson I talked to the students about what caffeine is: a stimulant drug that is in many foods and drinks consumed in the US. I explained that stimulants are drugs that speed everything up; people often use stimulants because they speed up your heart rate, give a sense of increased energy and added focus and can keep a person awake for long periods of time. People that abuse stimulants may have heart problems, they may have trouble concentrating and they may be unable to sleep. In addition to caffeine, other stimulant drugs include tobacco (must be 21+ to use), prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin (used for conditions like ADD and narcolepsy), and illegal drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy. Although these drugs differ in strength and effects, if abused they can all yield similar problems.
During class we screened a few minutes of a video about caffeine abuse. The video covers the story of a teenage athlete that passed out on the field after overusing caffeine. While watching the video, I also explained the importance of reading and understanding nutrition labels on food and drinks, and I also shared some stories of caffeine abuse from the schools that I have been teaching in over the past few years.
After the video, I told the kids the average amount of caffeine in the most common caffeinated drinks, and I answered questions about any products the kids may have encountered. Here are the caffeine levels in the most popular caffeinated food and drinks:
- soda/colas: 30-50 mg per 12 oz can
- Monster/Rockstar: 160 mg per can
- Red Bull (small can): 90 mg per can
- 5 hr Energy: 200-250 per bottle
- Starbucks: 225-430 mg depending on size
- Keurig K – cup: 75-150
- Hershey’s Kiss – 1 mg
After going over these amounts, I gave the kids a rule for how much caffeine a growing kid (middle school, high school, maybe halfway into college) should not exceed:
No More Than 1mg Per Pound Per Day (1mg/lb/day)
This rule is based on a recommendation from the Canadian Government regarding kids and caffeine use. For one reason or another, the US has never made a ruling for how much caffeine a person of any age should have.
I emphasized to the kids that this rule is for them to use as they grow. Adults can have higher amounts of caffeine without negative results, and caffeine does not have the same risks for adults associated with the more powerful stimulants or drugs in other categories (so there’s no need for your child to slap the coffee or diet coke out of your hand in terror tomorrow morning).
7th Grade – Prescription Drugs
I talked about prescription drugs and prescription drug abuse with the 7th grade. We live in a culture where all sorts of pills are available to any person that asks for them, and many of our homes are filled with all sorts of medications that could be dangerous if used improperly. Its important that kids understand that improperly using prescription drugs is every bit as dangerous as using any of the illegal street drugs out there. The difference between prescription painkillers (opiates like Oxycontin, Fentanyl and Vicodin) and illegal drugs like heroin is very slight. People that abuse prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are not dissimilar to someone abusing methamphetamine.
- Medical experts identify the dangers of taking any medicines not specifically prescribed for you. They compare the abuse level to that of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, and note that this new addiction has evolved quite rapidly.
- Prescription drugs are defined as drugs manufactured to treat an illness or pain that are prescribed by a doctor and used by a patient under a doctor’s care. The most commonly abused prescription drugs come from these categories:
- Opiates (e.g., Vicodin®, Percocet®) are time-released drugs that block pain receptors in the brain. When crushed, they are as potent as heroin.
- Benzodiazepines (e.g., sleep aids and anti-anxiety pills like Xanax® and Valium®): “The kids use it for any excuse… ‘I broke up with my boyfriend, I flunked a test… I think I’ll take a Xanax®,’” Narcotics Educator Thomas Janette says of the many reasons these drugs are taken and abused by teens. These drugs are dangerous enough abused on their own, and are downright deadly when combined with other drugs.
- CNS Stimulants (e.g., Ritalin®) are used to combat narcolepsy and ADHD by stimulating the central nervous system (CNS), but can be abused in the same manner as methamphetamine and other illegal stimulants.
- We discuss drug tolerance or how the effects of the drug gradually weakens the more a person uses the drug. If they are addicted or abusing the drug (trying to get high), they need to increase the amount of the drug they use to get the feeling they want. As the amount increases, so does the danger of an overdose.
- We discuss drug withdrawal, and how all drugs that people use to get high may potentially make them feel sick and/or depressed when they stop using the drug. The withdrawal prevents the user from quitting and helps motivate continued use.
- We also talk about the danger of mixing drugs of any kind and how drug mixing can exponentially increase the danger of using.