COVENTRY — Approximately $9,000 in State Opioid Response funding awarded to the Coventry School District will help bolster substance abuse prevention efforts in the middle and high schools, Superintendent Craig Levis said this week. 

The funds will be used to launch in the coming school year a couple of pilot programs that will be extensions of the Seven Challenges Substance Use Treatment Program offered at both Coventry High School and Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School.

Facilitated by the Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP), Seven Challenge was designed to “meet the students where they’re at,” Levis said Tuesday, to encourage them to evaluate their lives and consider and then implement the changes they’d like to make. 

“We’ve had a lot of success with our Seven Challenges program, and I think maybe people aren’t even aware that we do a treatment program right in our schools,” Levis said.

First, the district this year plans to institute a recovery lunch program at the high school. 

“It’s an opportunity for students to explore what recovery is about in a safe environment,” Levis explained of the program, which he added will invite students to “share experiences in a controlled setting.”

The lunches will be facilitated by a trained counselor, who will be available one day per week during high school lunch periods to talk with students about recovery. 

“My feeling is, if we get one or two kids that realize that this is something that they need to address, that’s worth it,” Levis said.

He added that the lunches may also occasionally feature guest speakers and relevant activities.

The second program that the district plans to introduce thanks to the grant funding will be an intergenerational mentoring program facilitated by Bob Robillard, the town’s human services director.

The program, which Levis said will be a “win-win” for both students and seniors, will pair around 10 middle school students with seniors at the senior center in hopes that the two groups can benefit from one another’s company. 

“The whole idea is to increase students’ communication, their self esteem, their sense of belonging,” Levis said, adding that research around intergenerational mentoring suggests it can improve student attendance and academic performance.

“And those are likely factors that will keep them from experimenting, getting involved with substances,” Levis continued. 

The idea for the mentoring program sprouted from a project Jennifer Asay, a teacher at Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School, assigned to her advisory students in which they interviewed seniors.

“Students were so engaged with the seniors, and that gave us the idea, let’s build on this,” Levis said. “The seniors are such an incredible resource, why not tap into that?” 

Levis said the funds will cover transportation to the senior center every three weeks as well as the stipend for a substitute teacher who will fill in for a teacher who will join the students. 

The Coventry School District was among 15 recipients to receive State Opioid Response grants totaling $362,286, each chosen through a competitive bidding process.

Funded by the The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, the grants were awarded through the Kent and South County Prevention Coalitions to support innovative community initiatives to reduce opioid use and lend support for those impacted by the overdose epidemic.

Levis said the two pilot programs aren’t very costly, and the grant funding will keep them going through the end of December. He added that he hopes down the road to receive additional funding for their continuation.

“We’re hoping that we can collect some data on both programs to demonstrate that they’re effective,” Levis said.  

And if the district is able to receive additional funds to continue the programs, Levis added that students will inevitably get more out of what they’re being taught in school. 

“If students aren’t emotionally and physically and mentally well, then they’re not going to access what we’re teaching them,” he said. “We have great people in our schools, but we don’t have those extra funds. So, even a [$9,000] resource allows us to greatly impact our student population.”

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