LifeSkills Training making a big difference in students’ lives

Published 11:05 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

Demopolis Middle School hosted its first awards ceremony for its LifeSkills Training program on Thursday. Sixth-graders have been taking the LifeSkills course to help them make good decisions at a crucial point in their lives.

“LifeSkills is a curriculum that is designed to help students in Grade 6 improve self-esteem, confidence, image and instruct them on how to make good decisions,” said LifeSkills instructor Loretta Wilson. “It also increases their awareness about various forms of tobacco use and alcohol and drug use.

“The State of Alabama pushes this program through local organizations. This program is simple life skills: how to be a better person and how to be confident in your answer when being approached by someone to do something that is not character-building.”

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Wilson said that sixth-grade students are at the age when statistics say children start smoking or experimenting with alcohol or drugs. The LifeSkills program is a part of the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority’s GROWestAL program that also provides the TEMPO (Teens Empowering and Motivating Peers to Opt out) anti-smoking program.

“Since we’ve been here, we’ve encountered some sixth-graders who have been introduced to different types of tobacco or alcohol use,” Wilson said. “These are children who don’t have the self-esteem that they need or the confidence that they need. Just talking to them about who they are and learning who they are has been really worthwhile. The most rewarding thing is walking away and them knowing who they are and being proud of who they are and knowing they have the authority and the assertiveness to say ‘No’ to drugs or alcohol and all of these negative influences.”

Wilson said that 197 students — most from sixth grade, but some from lower grades – took part in the program now in its second year in Demopolis. This is the first year that all sixth-graders took part in the program, which will soon be brought to John Essex School and the Linden City Schools system.

Bringing the LifeSkills Training program to the students were LifeSkills instructors Wilson and Zina Wiggins and DMS teachers Patricia Bolden and Deborah C. Brown. The program is available through the $25,000 grant provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health in October.

The Demopolis Middle School choir gave two performances during the ceremony, and the keynote speaker was Circuit Court Judge Marvin Williams of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hale, Perry, Bibb, Dallas and Wilcox counties.

Other honored speakers included GROWestAL director Marcia Pugh, DMS principal Clarence Jackson Jr., Demopolis City Schools superintendent Dr. L. Wayne Vickers, Tombigbee Healthcare Authority chief executive officer Mike Marshall and Niko Phillips, the Area VII coordinator for the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“By challenging the perception of smoking as a ‘normal’ adult behavior, smoke-free policies can change the attitudes and behaviors of adolescents,” Phillips said. “Studies show that youth smoking can be reduced by prevention programs, increasing the price of tobacco products and by implementing smoke-free policies.”

The Tombigbee Healthcare Authority, Demopolis City Schools and the Theo Ratliff Activity Center are working together to combat tobacco usage, especially among teens.

“This program is very exciting for us,” Pugh said. “This was the second year for the program, but the first year we were able to get all of the sixth-grade students involved, and our first awards ceremony.”

Sixth grade is such a vulnerable age, when peer pressure, self-esteem and decision-making all come into play. The LifeSkills Training program helps students make better decisions and develop them into the individuals they can be.

“There are so many negative impressions and influences that kids are exposed to,” Pugh said. “This is a great positive influence, and we need all the positive influences for children that we can get.”

“I wish that every child would go through a character-building program,” Wilson said. “It is so important. Our children come from very different backgrounds and live with very different personalities. When they get to school, just to know that what they experience at home that there is a resolve at school — it’s just very rewarding.”