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Indianapolis schools land $7.5 million to fight drug abuse

August 8, 2018

Adults in Indiana are more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident. And for many Hoosiers, substance abuse begins in adolescence.

That’s what spurred the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, an Indianapolis-based philanthropy, to create an ambitious grant program to help schools roll out new substance-use prevention strategies. The foundation announced Tuesday that it would give $7.5 million in grants to 24 Marion County schools and districts.

The foundation has committed more than $10.2 million since January to Marion County schools, including the $7.5 million in implementation grants announced Tuesday, $860,000 in planning grants, and about $1.8 million in ongoing technical assistance and evaluation. (For full disclosure, the Fairbanks Foundation also has donated to Chalkbeat.)

Because substance abuse often begins early, schools across Indiana have an opportunity to reduce drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. But just 11 percent of Marion County schools reported using a proven prevention curriculum in a survey last year. With the grants, the foundation hopes to increase the number of schools using evidence-based substance abuse prevention programs, said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the foundation.

“It feels like a really urgent need to help equip students with information so they can make better decisions and not fall into the trap of addiction,” Fiddian-Green said. “Schools can and should play a really powerful role.”

The grants are expected to help schools reach over 71,000 children and teenagers—about 44 percent of all students in the county—over the next two school years.

The largest grant will go to Indianapolis Public Schools, which was awarded $1.7 million. The grant will allow the district to use proven resources to help students avoid substance use, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said in a written statement.

“Opioid use has reached a crisis level in central Indiana and across the state,” he said.

School-based drug abuse prevention classes have a spotty track record. The best known substance abuse prevention program is DARE., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education. That program has been found to be mostly ineffective. But there are other approaches that have been shown to work.

Fairbanks partnered with the Indiana Prevention Resource Center to develop a list of programs that research shows lead to short- and long-term reductions in drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, Fiddian-Green said. In order to receive the grants, schools must choose from those evidence-based programs.

IPS will use Second Step in elementary and middle schools. The program is not specific to substance abuse — instead, it is a broad social-emotional learning curriculum designed to promote social-emotional competence and self-regulation.

As opioid use has roiled Indiana, Fairbanks has supported other efforts to address the immediate crisis, such grants focused on expanding access to treatment, Fiddian-Green said. But the foundation is also looking for longer-term strategies to reduce abuse in the future.

“It’s opioids today, it could be something else tomorrow,” she said. “Prevention with children and teens seems like the next place to go.”

These 24 Marion County schools and districts received grants

Beech Grove City Schools, $226,028

Bishop Chatard High School, $100,655

Cardinal Ritter High School, $108,545

Cathedral High School, $86,010

Cold Springs School, $146,275

Edison School of the Arts, $29,744

Franklin Township Community School Corporation, $235,501

Global Preparatory Academy, $12,430

Indiana Math and Science Academies, $130,000

Indianapolis Public Schools, $1,738,721

KIPP Indy Public Schools, $180,500

Lighthouse Academies, $192,104

Matchbook Learning, $176,871

MSD of Decatur Township, $283,587

MSD of Lawrence Township, $943,551

MSD of Wayne Township, $1,282,439

Perry Township Schools, $517,265

Purdue Polytechnic High School, $341,049

Roncalli High School, $139,294

Scecina Memorial High School, $85,704

Shepherd Community School, $130,199

The Independence Academy, $24,870

The Orchard School, $142,500

Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School, $260,000.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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