Rhonda Valdez, a school nurse at Wheat Ridge High School in Denver, will be taking on a new role soon. She has special certification in Colorado to teach marijuana prevention to school children. She’s among a group of nurses, counselors and social workers hired by districts to teach marijuana prevention education.
The state’s recreational marijuana sales tax dollars are funding the program, according to The Denver Post. Forty-two school districts will take part in the program. The $9.2 million grant is being distributed to schools that are near recreational marijuana shops. The education programs are designed to discourage teens and school age children from trying or using marijuana.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) says that work will be done inside and outside the classrooms.
Nurse Valdez said, “We and other school health professionals are in a unique position in our schools in that we see kids every day and we can educated, assess and assist them with substance abuse or behavioral health issues. We can help keep kids from walking through that door that can lead to bad things.”
The grant money also helps correct school districts’ shortage of nurses. For every Colorado school nurse, each is responsible for up to 6,000 students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that school nurses be responsible for no more than 750 students.
Qualified counselors will also be hired with the grant money. The counselors, according to Jon Widmier of Jefferson County School District, will help intervene and teach drug prevention. He said, “There is a growing need for this type of service in our schools, and we are trying to get ahead of it.”
Jeffco Schools has received $825,000 to hire three full-time nurses and six social emotional learning specialists. All positions are funded for three years.
Widmier said, “The lines have definitely been blurred. There is more of a cultural acceptance of marijuana use.”
Since 2005, roughly 5% of Colorado high school students used marijuana regularly. In January 2017, the report shows little to no evidence that this number has increased.
Mike Van Dyke, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said, “After all, it’s still illegal for high school students to use marijuana. You still can’t go to a retail shop and buy marijuana if you are under 21. You have to get it through illegal means.”
Before the grant funding came through, Nurse Valdez bounced between three schools. Now, she’ll be able to stay at just Wheat Ridge High School.
Widmier said, “That’s one reason why we are so excited about this. We can offer more focused support in one place.”
The Denver Public Schools system was given $871,636 in grant funding. This will help with suicide prevention education, substance abuse education and other programs at 22 of its middle and high schools.
Ellen Kelty of Denver Public Schools said, “It’s an interesting life we are in right now. But anything we can do to eliminate depression and other things that cause substance abuse is a step forward. We just want to make sure kids make smarter choices.”