With the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changing the way we live, work and learn, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has launched a distance learning version of Safety First to meet the growing needs of remote learning and teaching. The original Safety First curriculum, which has been downloaded by over 1,700 educators across the country since first launching in October 2019, is a first-of-its-kind drug education program aimed at providing high school students with honest and scientifically accurate information that empowers them to reduce drug-related harms.
Not only has COVID-19 changed the way we learn, but it has also changed the way we cope and limited the usual outlets available to meet students’ emotional and mental health needs. As schools and teachers prepare for instruction in the 2020-2021 school year -- whether in person or online -- it’s critical to assess the evolving health and coping needs of students and how well they’re equipped to meet them. They will need the tools to respond to students’ questions about drug use and safety. This is also why, now more than ever, it’s critical that schools and districts review their drug and discipline policies to ensure they are supportive of student health and coping rather than inadvertently creating more trauma and distress.
“The world is a dramatically different place than what it was when we initially launched Safety First last year. Students are understandably dealing with a lot more trauma and isolation, while having fewer outlets and resources to deal with it in a healthy way,” said Sasha Simon, Safety First Senior Program Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “And as a generation of Americans reassess the overuse of criminalization and punishment as tools of control, especially among Black and Brown communities, we need to ensure school discipline and drug policies are reflective of the emerging needs and concerns of students, and disrupt intergenerational contributors of trauma and health inequities. We’re at a moment where students and teachers will spend less time together in the classroom, and there is a growing movement to defund the presence of police in schools. It’s a great time for schools to consider what their alternatives could be and why.”
DPA worked in collaboration with teachers—some of which have used Safety First in their classrooms—youth development specialists and community health advocates to adapt Safety First for current online learning and teaching needs.
The distance learning version includes new features to allow for remote accessibility, such as:
“This is a challenging time for students and teachers alike – we are all working overtime to adjust to this new reality and ensure students have the tools they need to cope and keep themselves safe,” said Erin Hiltbrand Hall, San Francisco based Health Educator. “Safety First was an invaluable resource last year in the classroom, and it will be even more critical now in the virtual learning space, so we’re thrilled this interactive, distance-learning version is available.”
The distance-learning version of the curriculum comes at an extremely vital time when COVID-19 is exacerbating the overdose crisis that already cost us a record 70,000 American lives in 2018 and taking a toll on people’s mental health and ability to cope.
Unlike abstinence-only programs, Safety First is based on the philosophy of harm reduction. While the primary goal is still the same—to discourage young people from using alcohol and other drugs—Safety First takes it one step further and provides teens with essential information to keep themselves and their friends safe if and when they do encounter these substances.
Aligning with National Health Education Standards and Common Core Learning Standards, the goal of the curriculum is to empower ninth and tenth grade students to make healthier decisions by helping them develop:
Lessons offered include:
DPA has a long history of providing guidance to parents on how to talk with their kids about drugs. The core of this advice can be found in the Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs booklet. It is available in eight languages and has been widely distributed.
Parents can find further advice with these short tip sheets:
The Safety First curriculum is available for download at no cost at drugpolicy.org/safetyfirst.