An ongoing partnership between the Wrangell school district and Alaska Island Community Services is promoting student emotional and physical health with an emphasis on tobacco prevention.

The project began last year because the number of smoking students exceeded the state averages and there was no anti-tobacco curriculum in place throughout the district. The partnership had these goals in mind at its inception: enhance current tobacco policies by incorporating stricter consequences for violations, implement a school-wide tobacco prevention curriculum and wellness team, as well as expanding those efforts to the entire community. AICS’s Desiré Shepler said many students have been taking part.

“The tobacco program director developed a sheet informing students about the tobacco policy. Students read the sheet, they completed a quiz, they signed a pledge to remain tobacco free and in return they received a ‘Wolves are Tobacco Free’ sweatshirt or t-shirt. In the middle school and high school, over 100 t-shirts and sweatshirts were distributed to students last year,” she said.

She said students from grades 3 through 8 participated in eight in-class trainings through the Botvin Life Skills training program, which is a substance abuse and violence prevention program. Shepler said the students offered positive feedback after the trainings and were tested before and after the classes to see what they learned. Those results have not been released yet. Shepler said in the next year the program will continue to educate students and parents about the tobacco-free policies, find new ways to make sure students are participating in as many anti-tobacco activities as possible, try to offer the Botvin Life Skills training to the 9th grade students and draw more attention to national campaigns such as the Great American Smoke Out.

Shepler said the partnership will also allow for more services at the elementary school with a dedicated counselor. There are currently counselors in the high school and middle school.

“AICS has hired a new behavioral health clinician. She will provide assistance to Evergreen Elementary staff in implementing their Second Step program for the elementary school students. It’s a program designed to teach core social emotional skills such as empathy, emotion management and problem solving, and it’s going to be very complementary to the Botvin Life Skills program that’s already in place. She will also be located in the elementary school part time so she can provide in-school services to students,” she said.

Shepler said during the last school year, six AICS clinicians provided services to a total of 64 students throughout the district. About a third of those were in the elementary while the rest were split between the middle and high schools.