Recently, the Fayette County Prevention Coalition discussed “Project Ex,” which is a program utilized by both Miami Trace Local Schools and Washington Court House City Schools that attempts to assist students in curbing their tobacco use rather than having students be suspended from school.
Project Ex is an evidence-based program developed by the University of Southern California with the support of a research grant from the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program. Steve Sussman, Ph.D. and Kara Lichtman wrote the curriculum that is currently being taught in the local school districts.
“In lieu of three days suspension, the home school sends the student to the alternative school for five days, and they must complete the 10-hour Project EX program,” explained Debbie Southward, administrator of the Miami Trace Learning Center. “[The students] write a one page essay on the dangers of smoking/vaping and some alternative to smoking/ vaping to relieve stress.”
According to Southward, the students are given all of their standard school work assignments while at the alternative school. A Miami Trace High School intervention specialist and a Miami Trace Middle School intervention specialist go to the alternative school for two periods a day to assist the alternative school students with their work. There are also two full-time educational aides that work with the students for the completion of their assignments.
The local program is facilitated by Audrey Mead-Funk, an intern for Fayette County Prevention and Pathways to Recovery (which is through the Fayette County Community Action Commission).
“As an intern here at the Community Action Commission, I have already had so many opportunities to learn and grow,” wrote Mead-Funk via email. “I am the one who facilitates the Project Ex group that students attend when caught using vaping, smoking or dipping tobacco and/or nicotine products.”
According to the Project Ex teacher’s manual, “most adolescent tobacco users are likely to continue using tobacco into adulthood. They are at risk for physical consequences of tobacco use and some of these consequences may begin their course in adolescence. Adolescent tobacco use cessation efforts are needed to stop the habit before addiction and physical consequences accumulate.”
Gwen Hesson, a local Project Ex certified trainer, explained via email, “one of the highlights of teaching this program is seeing the youth at future dates and hearing their success stories. The seeds we plant now through Project Ex have long-reaching effects. We not only cover the standard smoking, tobacco and vaping issues, but we cover coping skills that many students may not have experienced, such as meditation, yoga and healthy lifestyle choices. We even cover a section on anger management that includes assertiveness training — skills that can assist anyone throughout their lifetime.”
Mead-Funk wrote, “something that I think is really cool about this program is that it’s very much harm-reduction based. Harm-reduction just means not forcing someone to quit, just encouraging and empowering them that it is their choice to do so or not do so while giving them the facts and information we have on the risks. Harm-reduction also helps them recognize that all choices have consequences — good or bad. The feedback from the students has been great too, according to Gwen and the kids themselves. They really enjoy the program.”