It’s been two years since the concept of building a coalition of people – people who could take on urgent social, mental health, addiction and domestic violence issues – first began in the hopes of moving the dialog to the point of actionable plans. And although the start may have been slow, the group has picked up considerable steam.
Resulting from a desire to better serve local people whose complex problems and situational urgencies affect the entire social fabric of the community, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Elise M. Frangos, along with health care professionals, educators and administrators, police and fire personnel, students and parents, and the Mattapoisett Lions Club are just getting started.
As each participant arrived on November 28 for the hour-long session, they were asked to select an area of interest such as Community Culture, Relational Violence, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health.
Gathering around tables to approach these specific topics, the participants were given some guidance by Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Doug White. He asked that as the sub-groups began their discussions, they try to hone in on one or two thoughts that could be developed into action plans.
“These issues are bigger than the schools,” said White. “These are community issues.”
At the table discussing substance abuse and mental health issues were several doctors, social workers, students, nurses, and teachers. Jumping right into the matter at hand, Dr. Jason Reynolds, pediatrician and also member of the Marion Board of Health, asked how they could educate parents and children. From that thought, the group brainstormed how the topic of drugs is processed by adults and teens, and their disparate appreciation or lack thereof regarding the severity of using drugs, whether prescription or otherwise.
A student sitting at this table shared her experience with attending several different forums, presumably geared for teens, which failed to reach the mark.
“I felt patronized,” she said. “We weren’t treated as real people… We were talked down to… I felt like a child.” She said those presentations, although well meaning, were just more, “Don’t take drugs,” without any substantive takeaways. She suggested more science-based material to help children and teens more fully appreciate the damage drugs can do to the growing brain. She also suggested the use of social media to connect messaging with teens – kids talking to kids.
The group also discussed the impact several smaller, community-based events might have versus larger singular events.
Over at the Community Culture table, the conversation was startlingly different. Issues of bullying, shaming, and racial insult were being discussed. One parent shared the experiences of her children, children of color, who had been horribly bullied.
Her words were like fresh wounds now shared by all within listening distance.
One of the students at the table shared her experiences being treated cruelly by other kids in her class, the disruption and hurt that it caused her and her siblings, as well as their parents. Everyone agreed that conversations of equality and dignity should take place in the home but recognized that wasn’t enough.
Mattapoisett Schools Principal Rose Bowman stated, “It’s a ‘we’ conversation… It’s gender identification; it’s racism.” She continued, “How do we get that message out across to kids of all ages?”
Little things can change things in big ways, she said.
Bowman continued, “The main theme is awareness. We have to teach people to speak out. You have to have the courage of your convictions, to step up, be strong.” She said that the Community Culture sub-group might want to consider a theme of “be aware and speak out.”
“The burden of responsibility goes to every parent and child,” said Bowman.
The table dealing with the umbrella topic of Relational Violence only had three people, but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in substance.
Frangos, along with Public Health Nurse Amanda Stone and student Alex Wurl were deep into how to get a solid message to impacted youth.
Fragos said, “The R.A.D. program has proven successful for grades six and seven and will be rolled out to grades nine and ten via a grant.”
R.A.D., which stands for rape, aggression, defense, is a program that has been developed to teach all populations regardless of age or gender how to protect and defend themselves through awareness and training.
Wurl discussed a course of study some of the ORRHS students were participating in that brought together tangible presentation skills with real-life subject matter. He said that his team had prepared materials and a presentation around the subject of the rape culture in the U.S., how to prevent victim blaming, and cross-strategies to combat the problem. He suggested that the presentation could be used as a teaching tool in the schools.
Stone discussed reaching out to other high schools in the area to ascertain if they had programs the coalition could tap into and/or to share Wurl’s concept.
As the hour drew to a close, it was clear that the participants could have continued for another hour. White asked the groups if they had been able to draw out one specific topic for further exploration and development. The resounding response was ‘no’.
The groups felt they needed one more brainstorming session to settle into an area that could be used to further the conversations and give the Tri-Town community solid information and assistance in these areas.
If you are interested in learning more about the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition visit www.healthytritowncoalition.org.