Media Archive

County schools fight tobacco use

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 44, October 30, 2002

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

DOVER-FOXCROFT A group formed with funds from Maine's portion of the national tobacco settlement is using that money to improve anti-smoking education in local schools and create a more health-conscious culture in the Penquis region.

The Piscataquis Public Health Council (PPHC), formed in April 2000, is one of 31 community and school partnerships throughout the state funded by the Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine (PTM) and charged with distributing the tobacco settlement funds in their respective
localities.

The PPHC has been meeting every month for the past year formulating strategies for putting in place the programs and policies needed to fight tobacco use. At the most recent meeting last Wednesday at Mayo Regional Hospital, health coordinators from each of the five local school districts were on hand to update council members on their progress so far in curbing youth tobacco use and promoting

Each district has formed a "wellness team" for the purpose of organizing and implementing a plan to improve general health and curtail tobacco use in thier schools. The teams have conducted surveys of students, staff and, in some instances, parents, and are meeting regularly to discuss ideas and opportunities for improving the overall health climate of the schools. While each district is moving at their own pace dictated by time and resources, the health coordinators at last week's meeting all expressed pleasure at the program's success so far.

Greg Bellemare, principal at Piscataquis Community Middle School (PCMS) in Guilford and health coordinator for SAD 4 schools, used the initial funds to develop a health curriculum and purchase supplemental materials for use in the classroom, as did coordinators in Greenville, Dover,Guilford and Milo. The curriculum, he says, highlights the areas of nutrition and exercise, and programs like the anti-smoking Tar Wars work to promote non-tobacco use to youth.

In addition, a general exercise group is formed that does some sort of activity every day for 30 minutes. Members track their progress, and hold drawings for related items like socks and pedometers as a morale booster. SAD 4 is also working on implementing weight loss programs for staff,students and the general public. Bellemare pointed out that the health and wellness curriculum, virtually non-existent three years ago, will, after the activities and assessments of the upcoming year, fall in line with the strict standards of the Maine Learning Results.

The wellness team at SAD 68, spearheaded by health coordinator Greg Leavitt, posts the minutes from their meetings, along with healthy cooking recipes, on the district's e-mail system as a way to facilitate community involvement.

'The group seems to have momentum right now," said Leavitt, "and they are looking to do more."

The district assisted the YMCA with scholarship programs over the summer, and the SAD 68 wellness team is looking to partner with the YMCA to create some after-school programs that promote a healthy policies for school property and events.

Robin Mayo said SAD 46 in Dexter now has full-time health teachers at both the middle school and high school levels. They have also created a health resource library, organized by age appropriateness, and the school's Web site contains wellness team meeting minutes, as well as information on the PPHC and other available resources.

A student and staff survey has been completed covering all eight wellness components as put forth by the state, Mayo said, and the district's primary focus right now is to interpret the results and use them to adjust their plans.

Martha Herrick, health coordinator in Greenville, said they have formed a 13-member team made up of administrators, staff, parents, and students, and have conducted a teacher survey on curriculum, and a parents and teachers survey on health needs. Life skills training materials are now available at the schools, and the group has funded a school kick-off event,as well as changes to the school playground,which she says is now bigger and safer.

Shirley Wright of SAD 41 was unable to attend the meeting in person, but she sent along materials outlining her district's wellness action plan. Her group has reviewed health and wellness curriculum already in place, and is in the process of finding specific district needs and setting district-wide goals for tobacco prevention, physical activity, and good nutrition.


NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.