Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - New Mexico is not so enchanting when it comes to statistics on drug abuse, which is one reason New Mexico State University is helping children learn more about substance abuse prevention through after-school programs beginning in September.
The state leads the nation in substance abuse-related mortality. An estimated 18 to 35 percent of New Mexico eighth graders report using illegal drugs compared to 12 percent nationally.
"The Share/Care 4-H After School Program will provide unsupervised, at-risk youth with intensive, substance abuse education over the school year," said Billy Dictson, interim director of NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "We also will provide constructive, challenging activities to stimulate their interests and hobbies, using 4-H curriculum."
A $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will fund the program in five counties -- Bernalillo, Cibola, Colfax, Otero and Los Alamos. The goal is to reach 2,000 children.
An additional $100,000 in Extension funds will be used to set up programs in Curry, Guadalupe, Lea, Quay and Rio Arriba counties.
"We put Extension funds into this program because we believe there's such a great need for after-school programming," Dictson said. Figures show that more than 200,000 New Mexico youth lack adequate after-school supervision.
Children will receive 50 hours of substance abuse education, including materials from the National Institute of Health and the Children's Television Workshop.
Programs target kids in elementary to junior high school. But some high school students may be involved. Counties set up programs based on needs and rely on partnerships with local groups and agencies. In many cases, school teachers will be hired to work with youth after school.
"This is a pilot program," Dictson said. "We have 85 years of experience with conducting youth programs in New Mexico but not a lot of documented scientific evidence with at-risk youth programs. If we do a good job by meeting the needs of New Mexico youth, we can get additional funds to continue the program next year."
Dictson said one expected outcome is that children involved in the programs will at least have a safe, active and healthy place to go after school.
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