June Leffler Published

Game Changers Program Will Start At 3 Harrison County Schools This Fall

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Gov. Jim Justice introduced the Game Changers initiative in 2018 with the goal of preventing kids from trying drugs and developing substance use disorders.

This fall, that program will enter schools, Justice announced Tuesday.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am today to make this announcement of the first Game Changers Schools,” Justice said at a press conference.

The program will place full-time Game Changers counselors in three Harrison County schools for the entire year starting in the fall of 2022. Those schools are Lincoln High School, Lincoln Middle School and Big Elm Elementary School.

“We are very excited about it being student-led, students sharing their experiences, and hopefully it leading them to want to change their lives,” said Lincoln Middle School Principal Lori Scott.

Scott said while most of her middle-schoolers aren’t using drugs, she’s seen that many come from unstable homes that could make them more susceptible to substance use disorders down the road.

“We see they’re products of their environment. They’re 12, 13 years old raising themselves, raising siblings, because they’re being neglected at home,” Scott said.

Each Game Changers counselor will teach age-based programming to elementary, middle and high school students. That will include in-class, after school and one-on-one guidance.

Game Changers Executive Director Joe Boczek said these counselors will also enlist students to take on peer leadership roles.

“It’s been proven that kids are more, nowadays, likely to go to a peer with a problem with issues at home, which could be opioid use,” Boczek said. “They feel more comfortable than going down to the counselor.”

Each counselor will be trained by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a partner of the program. Boczek said these counselors will bring expertise that other school staff might not have.

“Guidance counselors are frustrated because they don’t know what to do…There’s no plan of attack,” Boczek said.

The goal is to eventually bring the Game Changers program to all schools in the state by 2027. Boczek estimates that expanding the program would cost $20 million a year.

There’s been a lot of fundraising and promotion of the initiative since it was announced in 2018. Game Changers gained financial support from corporate and private donors as well as public backing from leaders like U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. So far, that’s resulted in large-scale summits that brought kids and experts in drug prevention to one place.

The school’s program will be more intimate and long term. Boczek said it will be a work in progress.

“Studies that will be done after the first year to evaluate the program… they may find some things that we think are going to be really good may not be as successful, and we’ll have to adapt like you have to adapt with anything else,” Boczek said.

Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit findtreatment.gov.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.