Ninety-seven school districts in 34 states will be able to recruit, hire, and train middle school drug prevention and safety coordinators, thanks to nearly $35 million in grants announced Sept. 30 by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

The three-year grants were awarded to school districts and consortia of smaller districts with significant drug, discipline, and violence problems in middle schools.

“Research shows that in order to make an impact on students, prevention programs must include in-school prevention coordinators—preferably on-the-job full-time,” said Riley. “This $35 million will support intervention efforts in middle schools that can make a long-term impact on reducing youth drug use and creating safer schools.”

“Our nation’s young people are the most vulnerable to drug use during middle school,” added Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control and Policy (ONDCP). “This new program is a catalyst for schools to implement prevention programs that are science-based. Teachers, coaches, administrators, and families want to know that their school’s drug and violence prevention programs are effective. As we reduce drug use, we increase school performance.”

McCaffrey and ONDCP were instrumental in generating support and funding for the new program and making it a key part of the White House’s national drug strategy.

Middle schools and students will benefit by using coordinators to:

• Identify and assist schools in adopting successful, research-based drug and violence prevention programs and strategies;

• Develop, conduct, and analyze assessments of school drug and crime problems;

• Work with community organizations, parents, and students to ensure collaboration;

• Identify additional funding sources for drug prevention and school safety program initiatives; and

• Provide feedback to state educational agencies on successful programs and activities.

Research suggests that the presence of a full-time coordinator can enhance prevention programs and reduce drug use, discipline problems, and violent incidents. Well-trained staff members who are familiar with the research on effective prevention programming can help design and implement prevention programs to meet the unique needs of students in the schools they serve.

A 1997 U.S. Department of Education longitudinal study found that coordinators are especially effective when they devote a significant amount of time to prevention programs. For this reason, the program requires that coordinators work full-time on prevention.

Districts with significant drug, discipline, and violence problems in middle schools were eligible for the competitive grants. The department identified schools with “significant problems” as those in which at least one student was, within the previous year, suspended, expelled, or transferred to an alternative school or program for possession, distribution, or use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, or for the possession or use of a weapon.

Also eligible were schools that referred at least five students for substance abuse treatment or suspended, expelled, or transferred five students to alternative schools for physical attacks or fights.

Coordinators must serve between one and seven middle schools (serving students in two or more grades, grades five through nine); work solely on coordination of drug prevention or school safety programs; and have a degree from an accredited four-year institution of higher education and an academic background or equivalent work experience in a field related to youth development.

According to the Department of Education’s Grants Forecast, another round of competitions under the Middle School Drug Prevention and School Safety Program Coordinators program is scheduled to begin Nov. 19, with a deadline of Feb. 28, 2000. An estimated 136 grants will be given, ranging from about $55,0000 to $275,000.

For details, contact Ethel Jackson, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Room 3E308, FOB6, Washington DC 20202-6123; phone (202) 260-3954, fax (202) 260-7767, eMail Ethel_Jackson@ed.gov, webhttp://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/SDFS/grants.html.