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Third-Year Project Helping Young Adults to Make Better Choices

Nov. 8, 2006 — Teaching young adults to avoid drug use and unsafe sex are just a few of the objectives in a 10-week program currently being offered to the island's youth. In an age where knowledge of Crucian culture seems to be dwindling, the Coalition of Adolescents and Young Adults (CAYA) Media project is trying to give St. Croix sixth graders a sense of pride and the self-confidence needed to resist making poor choices.
"We wanted to see if we could empower children before they reach seventh grade," said program director Jaslene Williams. The CAYA project is being administered by the Access to Racial and Cultural Health Initiative (ARCH), which received a $3.5 million federal grant more than three years ago. The project is now working with its third round of students.
For 10 weeks, young adults are taught ways to resist temptations and pressures of drugs, violence and sex. Three years ago, ARCH surveyed children and parents to discover that drugs, violence and unsafe sex remain the foremost challenges to young adults' survival.
Students in the program are pre-tested to evaluate their knowledge of the topics covered by the program. ARCH board member Annette Scott, who is also a prevention specialist at Charles Harwood Medical Center, facilitates Saturday sessions at Eulalie R. Rivera School in Grove Place. Currently in the program's third week, Scott says her students are responding excellently. Scott also noted that many of her students were misinformed about the dangers of certain drugs that seem to be acceptable in our community.
According to Scott, the current cultural trend has downplayed the seriousness of drugs, such as marijuana and alcohol. "They see their peers and adults indulging in these activities and have many preconceived notions about the effects these drugs have on their minds and bodies," she said. "They have a lot of questions."
Scott said the transition from elementary to junior high school is difficult for many students. "The school is bigger and classes are bigger," she said. "[The program] gives students security and reassures them that they don't have to take their clothes off, use drugs or succumb to peer pressure to have a good time. They learn that education is power, and they learn effective conflict resolution."
The project utilizes lectures, role-playing, and arts and crafts to dispel myths and educate youths on their history and their surroundings.
According to Williams, a cultural component of the project was added to give children a sense of their history. Williams said knowledge of their culture grounds youngsters and prevents them from "blowing in the wind." Veronica Gordon and Janis Tutein are the cultural facilitators who work hard to engage students and teach them that they can have fun with the things that surround them.
"One of the things most of the children say is that there is nothing to do and nothing is affordable," said Scott, who added that Gordon and Tutein are opening student's eyes to affordable activities and projects.
CAYA does not stop with the initial 10-week program; students are re-evaluated six weeks later to ensure that the information as been retained.
The program has two sites, one at Eulalie R. Rivera School in Grove Place and another at Juanita Guardine School in Christiansted. For more information on the ARCH institute and CAYA Media project visit their website or contact Williams at 713-3338.
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