School district plans new substance abuse program

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By Jack Dalton
Lansing Star staff writer

Officials in the Lansing School District are looking to install a new substance abuse program in district athletic departments.

Pat Bednarz received the Alcohol Abuse Reduction Grant from the US Department of Education in 2007. Jack Dalton/Lansing Star

Pat Bednarz, the project coordinator pushing for the change, wants to introduce the nationally known Life of an Athlete program to educate student athletes, coaches and parents about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. Bednarz received the federal Alcohol Abuse Reduction Grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2007, and is putting the money towards the program.

“The most important reason to change – and we’ve heard this consistently from our student athletes – they asked us, they said, ‘please give us fair guidelines that are fair across all schools that each of our high schools have the same policy and incidents are managed in the same way,” Bednarz told board of education members at the Feb. 17 meeting.

Cheryl Theisen, athletic director for the school district, has been involved with athletics for 34 years and worked with Bednarz to bring the program to Lansing.

Theisen said that surrounding communities already have an approach similar to Life of an Athlete for substance abuse, but are missing the educational aspect. She and Bednarz have already launched training modules for coaches, parents, and student athletes which are available on the internet. Each module includes a lesson followed by a test.

Currently, the Lansing parent-athlete district handbook says a student athlete “using or being involved in the use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco is automatically suspended” from athletic participation for the remainder of that year. Life of an Athlete brings a more tiered approach to substance abuse.

Davis and Theisen said that although some students wanted the substance abuse rule to be zero tolerance, most supported the tiered approach. “There’s a need for this,” Theisen said. “Our children have asked us to give them this, they’ve asked for consequences which really surprised me to be frank.”

“Change is never easy, but overall I think our coaching community, our booster clubs, our student athletes, our parents are open to change and are open to us piloting this,” Theisen said. “We did not receive any negative response.”

Lansing School District board members discussed the Life of an Athlete program at the Feb. 17 meeting. Andrew Kelleher/Lansing Star

“The students, when we met with them, they really liked the idea of very clear guidelines that were the same across all of the district high schools, so they were very much encouraging us to go for it,” Bednarz said.

Board vice president and a former coach in the district, Charles Ford said he thinks increasing parent involvement will only increase participation and yield positive results.

During Bednarz and Theisen’s presentation at the meeting, board members made clear their desire to eventually expand the program from the athletic department to the entire district, if the proposal goes through. “We want to try to lay a foundation through this program which is specifically into athletics, but then what would be the expansion and level of participation of other students in extra curricular activities,” said district Deputy Superintendent Jim Davis.

Board President Shirley Rogers, said, “I don’t want there to be the impression that it’s only the athletes. Typically, in my experience, athletes, because they have something else that they can participate in and be involved with, it helps them stay more on the straight and narrow.”

Rogers added, “We always are looking for ways to provide assistance that will increase academic performance and, consequently, if our students are engaged in other activities and substance free, then it means that we can have hopes of having better academic performance.”

Davis said that his goal is to educate students, not make them think the district is out to catch them. “We want to teach them first and inform them so they make good choices,” he said. “But they need to understand also that what we expect from them as representing our school district as student athletes, and it is a student first who happens to be an athlete, they have a responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities to do that in a positive way.”

“We’re trying to teach our students that there’s not a person sitting in this room who can look themselves in the mirror and say they’ve never made a mistake,” Davis said at the meeting. “Our athletes can say ‘wow, you hold us to this standard that’s pretty high,’ but they want that.”

Theisen said that she and Bednarz will give an updated presentation to the board policy committee on March 7, and if they receive approval, they will move forward to the board of education and work to implement the program. “Ideally, we would like to implement this yesterday,” she said. “There’s a need.”

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