by Candi Helseth
In Indiana, adolescents are having a rocking good time after school. Rather than going home to empty houses, they are playing games like tag football, kickball, basketball and Capture the Flag, and participating in interactive learning games that target risky behavior. As a result, gambling, smoking, and alcohol and drug experimentation among school-age children there is decreasing.
Research from the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, among others, has shown that juvenile crime, tobacco, alcohol and drug usage soars when millions of adolescents throughout the United States spill out onto the streets and remain relatively unsupervised between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. According to the Indiana Youth Survey 2010, 14,500 at-risk youth in 80 Indiana counties spent those crucial hours last year participating in Afternoons R.O.C.K. About 60 to 70 percent of the programs serve rural populations, according to Afternoons R.O.C.K. Evaluation Specialist Carla Brown.
“Afternoons R.O.C.K. in Indiana provides supervised activities for youth in the time span when research has shown that youth often find themselves tempted by problem behaviors,” Brown said. “We implement seven evidence-based curriculums throughout the state. We also include problem gambling curriculum and supportive prevention program activities.”
The acronym R.O.C.K. represents the program’s mission to provide Recreation, Object lessons, Culture and values, and Knowledge through focused and supportive prevention activities designed to teach youth about social and media influences, conflict resolution and refusal/resistance skills, gang and violence prevention, and avoidance of gambling. The program also teaches participants the importance of structuring their leisure time to be free of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Program curriculum is approved by the National Registry for Effective Programs and Practices (NREPP). Statewide requirements dictate inclusion of a healthy snack, physical recreation and assistance with school homework.
“We really try to separate school time from this after-school time,” Brown said. “We know from the research that one of the things that makes the program successful is that students don’t see it as a continuation of school. There are multiple components that interact dynamically to create a fun learning experience during these three critical hours.” In addition to recreational activities, the participants are encouraged to engage in self-expression through art projects, creative writing and small group discussions.
Rural communities must implement the required curriculum, but can adapt or adjust the program relative to their needs and community resources. For example, in one school a karate instructor volunteered once a week to teach basic karate moves and the program implemented conflict resolution skills into that; in another school, a police officer taught safety moves, which led to a discussion about safe environments. AA members have visited the program in different areas of the state to tell their stories, and other community members have shared their stories of drug addiction.
Cathy Piche, a longtime advocate for disadvantaged youth, immediately embraced the idea of implementing Afternoons R.O.C.K. in North Manchester, Ind. Piche is president of North Manchester Citizens Against Substance Abuse Coordinating Council and the Director of Youth Encouragement Services, Inc. (YES), a long-term home and short-term emergency shelter for abused and abandoned children ages 6-18 in Aurora, Ind. Piche has selected trustworthy, older (ages 16-18) residents living at the YES home to assist students participating in Afternoons R.O.C.K. She said kids in both groups benefited from the interaction.
“When we had our last day this year and I saw what a strong rapport the kids had developed and how they opened up and talked about what they’d learned, I was so pleased that we had come so far,” Piche said. “It’s crucial that we reach kids in early adolescence and provide them with information and support that will help them make better life-long choices.”
Workforce development has been a major key to the program’s success. Afternoons R.O.C.K. program supervisors, who are required to live in the local communities, must have college degrees as well as additional certification in substance abuse prevention. They identify at-risk youth, and work with youth and families to enroll them in the program. The Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) provides training and technical assistance for employees.
“Using separately designed surveys, we sample both the youth and parents following each program,” Brown said. “We ask parents about the changes they see in the child as a result of program participation. Over 93 percent of program participants say they learned a lot about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Ninety-four percent would recommend Afternoons R.O.C.K. to their friends. Ninety-six percent had a great time.”
Drug use and binge drinking has steadily declined and is well below national rates, she added. The most recent program evaluation of Afternoons R.O.C.K. in Indiana reported significant decreases in alcohol, tobacco cigarettes, marijuana, inhalants, and recreational use of prescription drugs, in addition to decreased frequency of gambling behaviors and increased frequency of peer disapproval and perceived risk of harm from alcohol, tobacco cigarette, and marijuana use from pre- to post-survey.
“There’s not one single thing we can put a finger on and say this is what makes these kids less likely to abuse substances,” Brown said. “The evidence-based curriculum makes substance abuse less appealing. The chance to talk among themselves and be involved together helps change attitudes and beliefs. They are spending time with friends after school instead of being unsupervised until parents get home. As that social network grows with these friends, peer pressure to use lessens. It’s really a combination of many factors that makes this program work.”
Since 1997, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Division of Mental Health and Addiction (DMHA) has funded Afternoons R.O.C.K. with a SAMHSA Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and the Indiana Problem Gamblers’ Assistance Fund.
To learn more, see www.rock.indiana.edu (no longer online) or call Carla Brown at 812-855-5109.
Back to: Summer 2011 Issue