by Kelly Duffield, Project AWARE Coordinator, Clay County Schools
Scott Bass is a familiar face in Clay County, West Virginia, and has changed roles to help fight against youth vaping. He has lived a life of service including 19 years in the United States Military. For 12 years, he wore a West Virginia State Police uniform by day, and it was not uncommon to see him in a coaching uniform by the end of the night. Trooper Bass is known for his commitment to his community, for going above and beyond to care for children.
For the past year, Mr. Bass has sported a new kind of attire, a suit and tie. He can be found in the halls and classrooms of Clay County Schools. His new mission? Joining forces with educators and parents to find ways to help our young people understand the dangers of vaping. Mr. Bass plays a critical role in the county’s vaping prevention efforts as the In-Depth Intervention Coordinator.
In-Depth is an evidence-based program that teaches signs of addiction, the brain science behind addiction, and equips students with tools for stopping. Students can be referred to the program by administrators as an alternative to more punitive options such as out-of-school suspension and fines.
Armed with a keen understanding of the value of relationships, evidence-based substance abuse programming, and a determination to help students, Mr. Bass uses the In-Depth curriculum to have meaningful conversations with students about their reasons for vaping. He seeks to understand the students’ individual situations and provide the encouragement, information, and skills for them to make desired changes. Sessions are held after school, in individual or small group sessions depending on the need, and Mr. Bass helps the students prepare presentations to present to family and administrators at the end of the program.
This Spring, multiple students have successfully graduated from the In-Depth program. While students begin the program out of necessity, it is not uncommon for them to complete the program with a congratulatory handshake and picture with Mr. Bass to celebrate their accomplishments. The connection established during the sessions is evident, post-intervention, as many students continue to check-in with Mr. Bass when he comes to the schools on another mission (the prevention side of things- more on that below.) We have also had students self-refer to the program after learning about the long and short-term implications of using vapes.
It is easy to use the “teenagers will be teenagers” assumption when discussing the vaping trend, but when we listen, really listen, to students, they can teach us some profound lessons. Mr. Bass shared some of his top “lessons learned”:
- Many of our students have said they started using vapes as early as 5th and 6th grade (and many of the parents indicated they had no clue.)
- Students may not realize some of the symptoms they have when they try to stop are from addiction. The nicotine found in in these products can be as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
- When the reality sets in, that “ I may be addicted”, it can be a catalyst for the desire to change.
- The term “vapes” is misleading. Many people (including adults!) do not know that E-cigarettes and vapes/juules do not contain or use water vapors.
- The “vapors” are chemicals vapors that contain nicotine and many other harmful chemicals like Carbon Monoxide, Ammonia, Arsenic, Cyanide, and Formaldehyde.
- Kids are saying that since they began using these products, they are having more trouble with anxiety, especially when they can’t “get a fix”. That is a sure-fire sign of addiction.
- All of the students who have gone through our program state they had no idea what was actually in the vapes they were using.
One Piece of a Larger Puzzle
The In-Depth Intervention is a crucial piece of prevention efforts in Clay County, but it is just one piece of the puzzle. Additional efforts include:
- Prevention: “Catch My Breath” education sessions are provided to all students in 5th, 7th, and 9th grades. This program aims to provide information and teach skills to empower students to make informed decisions and hopefully prevent them from engaging in use in the first place.
- Vape detectors installed in bathrooms.
- Vaping policy developed by school leaders which includes evidence-based interventions (Ripple Effects utilizes computer-based modules, and In-Depth is the face-to-face intervention highlighted above.)
- Increased collaborations with Community Care of WV to link students with school-based supports and services.
- Finding opportunities to involve parents/guardians and community members in efforts.
Final Thoughts: Start Somewhere
It seems that schools across the nation are looking for answers. “We have to do something” is a sentiment echoed by administrators, teachers, parents, grandparents, and even other students as the number and severity of vape-related incidents has increased in recent years. While we in no way believe we have all the answers, with support through Project AWARE (a federally funded grant through SAMHSA) and our very own “Mr. Bass” to lead the efforts, we do believe we have a good start.
Interested in learning more about how to talk to children about the dangers of substance abuse? Check out the “Talk, They Hear You” campaign. If you or someone you know needs help to quit tobacco, dial 1-800-QUIT-NOW for support. Questions and comments may be directed to Kelly Duffield.