SAVANNAH, GA – May 3, 2021 – National Prevention Week (NPW) is a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) supported annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, substance abuse and mental health issues taking place May 9 – 15, 2021.
SAMHSA holds NPW in May each year as it is near the start of summer, an important time for school, communities, and prevention professionals to re-focus on prevention. Adolescents and full-time college students most often use substances for the first time during June or July, according to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data. Having local resources and programs to prevent our youth from partaking in dangerous substance abuse is vital and that’s where Beyond The Bell Savannah gets involved.
The organization’s mission is to reduce the early onset of alcohol, drug, and substance abuse among 9-20 year-olds in our region. This local nonprofit makes prevention happen every day – not just during NPW – but NPW is the perfect time to promote their current prevention efforts, as well as provide programs to encourage and uplift our youth during this transitional time.
Beyond The Bell has a history of going above and ‘beyond’ standard prevention work. One way they are doing this is by offering a reading program called “Beyond Reading” for 3rd-5th grade students in the City of Savannah – made possible by the City of Savannah through their Community Partnerships Program.
Beyond the Bell recognized a need for a reading program for these young students as English-Language Arts scores in the City of Savannah have decreased from 2017 to 2019. According to community data from The Georgia Milestones Assessment System, they have identified that in 2017, 31% of 3rd-5th grade students were below reading level and in 2019, that number increased to 37%. The organization stands to reason under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, that these scores have further decreased in 2020.
As a prevention agency, Beyond The Bell believes it is important to target younger youth to minimize further risk. They also believe that to reduce risk, parents, educators, programs, and the community as a whole must promote positive habits and behavior. Prevention at its core is about promoting positive factors that reduce the likelihood of substance use, or any behavioral risk. A student who does not read at their grade level by the third grade is four times less likely to graduate. There are predictive issues that are often associated with low literacy such as low school attendance, poor academic performance, low self-esteem, higher drop-out rates, poverty, incarceration, unstable home life, and substance use.
According to the 2019 SCCPSS School Improvement Plan, the first overarching need identified was to improve student achievement in ELA and reading. The teaching of critical reading skills using text is not consistent in schools. SCCPSS claims that “students have become passive reader(s) from over reliance on technology and struggle with decoding, vocabulary, inferring and overall critical reading skill which contribute to critical thinking skill.” Beyond The Bell’s program addresses low literacy scores by providing time, space, and resources to support students who are struggling with reading and comprehension. Their program covers basic reading skills such as sight words, pronunciation, vocabulary, and comprehension needed to increase student’s literacy, thus their self-esteem, confidence, and ability to succeed in life.
Beyond The Bell started piloting this program virtually on April 5 at Windsor Forest Elementary School with the help of Ms. Terico Moore. The small group-focused program tailors to individually identified needs and reading and comprehension levels based on pre-test data, facilitator observation, and teacher referral. The students have been assigned to breakout rooms so facilitators specializing in education from Savannah State and Georgia Southern University hired by Beyond The Bell can work with students in a small group setting to engage in group reading, popcorn reading, grammar worksheets, and fun, creative activities.
“Our Executive Director, Sandra Dean, is extremely passionate about enriching children’s lives and meeting our youth where they are. That is why it is important for us as an agency to not only focus on prevention work, but providing programs that set local youth up for success in every aspect of their lives,” said Lindsey Grovenstein, Region 5 Coordinator of Beyond The Bell Savannah. “Along with Ms. Terico Moore at Windsor, we set this up to be a 6-week program ending the week of National Prevention Week as summer break provides a risk factor for youth substance use, so it is more important than ever to strengthen bonds with our youth and improve their self-confidence and skills. We are hoping to offer the reading program at summer camps and are working to coordinate participation from additional schools in the Fall.”
Along with the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), Beyond The Bell Savannah provides tools and evidence-based strategies to train, educate, and support youth and families in the prevention of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco use and abuse in the local community.
For more information about Beyond The Bell and its programs/resources, please visit www.beyondthebellkids.org.
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