Community Joins Together to Add Substance Use Prevention Curriculum in Orthodox Jewish Private Schools

Back in April 2018, Lianne and Etiel Forman, who have a child in recovery, held a substance use awareness event in their New Jersey community. They expected 50 people. Seven hundred showed up. From that meeting an idea was developed—to add a substance use prevention curriculum to the area’s seven middle schools and six high schools. When the couple learned of ORN, they immediately went to the website and made their request for help in developing a curriculum for the eleven private schools. “We don’t have enough good things to say,” Etiel says. “The flexibility of the (ORN support) to help us achieve our goals was amazing.”

Prior to contacting ORN, the Forman’s created a group comprised of community champions, including an influential rabbi, an Addiction Psychiatrist, and several psychology/guidance department heads across the schools. The group anticipated some push back from the schools’ administrations, but found instead enthusiasm and cooperation. The schools that are part of this program are private and in competition with one another. But in this case, they agreed a common, consistent, and evidence-based curriculum was needed. The high schools had already banded together with a national coalition of Orthodox schools to implement the Communities That Care model. When ORN team got involved they provided them with educational materials, TA provider consultant, and local resource lists to supplement their efforts. The middle schools, however, had no consistent curriculum—if they had a curriculum at all. “Our dream is to create what is a unified curriculum,” Lianne said.

The middle schools noted a need beyond prevention education and are exploring a full scale social-emotional learning curriculum. Administrators agreed it was important to not only address substance use, but the emotional development of youth, including bullying and the use of social media.

ORN conducted a needs and capacity assessment amongst the middle schools to further gauge buy-in and examine programs already in place. All schools stated a desire for a more robust, evidence-based prevention curriculum; protocols for addressing students with substance use concerns; continuing education for their teachers; and parent engagement plans to alert them of current drug trends. The middle schools are now reviewing several curricula provided by STR-TA and will choose one in the coming months. The Formans hope to have the curriculum in place by fall, 2019. “We’re incredibly grateful for all of the work STR-TA has done,” Etiel said.

Lessons gained from this process include recognizing the value of utilizing a multidisciplinary team; the importance of collaboration with various community stakeholders (e.g., parents, teachers, etc.); and confirmation that it is more than possible for a community movement to emerge from the strength and bravery of one family.