June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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The Enormous Impact of CCSA Programs

Editor’s note: At a recent gathering, Dr. Aliza Frohlich expresses the benefits that local yeshivot have gained since the inception of Communities Confronting Substance Use & Addiction (CCSA):

I really just want to express hakarat hatov for all that the Formans and their very dedicated crew have contributed to our community with their formation of CCSA. I want to relay how I and my students have experienced CCSA’s programming and how it has impacted us.

I looked back at my old emails—I never delete any—and saw the first email from Lianne [Forman] in 2018, that she sent to me about their endeavors. It seems just like yesterday, but since the first email four years ago, we have benefited in so many ways—whether through the teacher training our faculty received, the community awareness events, parent support groups or the programming for the students themselves.

Now some of you may be wondering, if I work in a middle school, why am I so passionate about supporting CCSA and their programming? Do our kids need this information so young? While I have worked at Yavneh middle school for 15 years—and, as the Formans can attest, many children do start engaging in substances in middle school—for 10 years before that I worked at a yeshiva high school which truly gave me an understanding of what is out there in the big, wide world. I entered Yavneh with the commitment to prepare our students to resist, stand up to peer pressure and, just as importantly, get help for friends who are struggling. So, I did implement programming on this topic in school all these years.

Just to be even more clear, every single middle school student MUST be exposed to this topic before they enter high school. The same way we prepare them academically with math skills, Gemara skills or writing skills, we need to prepare them with life skills. Resisting engaging in substances is a life-saving skill. So, just like we speak to them about body image, peer pressure, cheating, bullying, and the list goes on and on—this is a topic that merits being on that list. So, when Lianne reached out to me in 2018, I didn’t have to think twice about whether I wanted to help or bring this programming to our school.

What CCSA has accomplished, in my mind:

1. Bringing awareness to parents. By minimizing the stigma and speaking about their own personal experiences and bringing this topic to the forefront, parents know what to look for in terms of the warning signs. They know how to intercede—where to go for help. Parents also learn the importance of the unconditional love that they must demonstrate when their children are suffering—without judgment or anger. And, most importantly, they know that they are not alone. They need not hide and be ashamed.

2. Another area of focus has been the teacher training. We often don’t consider that training in pedagogical techniques is not sufficient to be a teacher. A teacher connects with his/her students and often is the frontline in identifying the difficulties children are going through. The teacher training provides our teachers with an eye to notice when children are at risk, to be more sensitive as to how to react, and to realize that it is their job to worry about the emotional lives and well-being of their students.

3. Just to speak for a moment on behalf of the guidance staff in the local yeshivot—it was a relief to know that we had a partner—someone who could bring some more expertise in this area of substance abuse. Access to the experts is another area that CCSA has provided to us. We have spent time sitting down with experts in prevention curricula, and know that we can have them as a resource for our schools.

4. Then, of course, the student workshops. This past year our eighth graders were privileged to hear from Elana Forman. While Elana did relay important information and knowledge, I believe that there were a few messages that our children walked away with that were truly life-changing:

a. Elana was just like us. She was a wonderful student, who went to yeshiva and had supportive religious parents who were involved in the community. It can be any of us. But Elana did nothing wrong—she was suffering. Which means there is no need to feel shame if we are struggling. Hearing Elana’s story helped them realize that it’s OK to reach out for help. Elana’s story also normalized mental illness for our teens.

b. Elana provided an essential message for the students who will never engage in substance use. Elana had said that she had friends who knew about the dangerous behaviors in which she was involved. She wished they would have come forward sooner to tell her parents or an adult. Often teens believe that if a friend asks them not to tell, they should not tattle. Our teens left the presentation with the clear message that, if you are worried about your friend’s behavior, you tell an adult. And, if he/she is angry at you, that it is worth it to save his/her life.

c. Our students also gained valuable information about the effects of various substances, and background regarding the dangers out there. This information coming specifically from Elana was even more impactful. Elana wasn’t purely an expert who went to school and learned the information. One could feel the passion that she had for the topic and that made the information all the more powerful.

d. One more item which I think made a huge impact on our students was seeing Elana and her mother, Lianne, coming in together. While Lianne wasn’t there to officially present, we did introduce her as Elana’s mother. Our students realized that no matter what we do, our parents will always be there for us. When there was time for questions, while the students weren’t officially directed to ask Lianne questions, students did. “How did it feel as a parent to have this happen? Did you know?” I think it is life-changing for teens to truly consider the important role that their parents play, and they should NEVER EVER be worried to come to their parents for help. Their parents will be there for them in a non-judgmental manner.

Those of us who work in yeshivot hope to raise all our students to take Shemirat Hamitzvot seriously. One of the 613 mitzvot to be taken seriously is found in דברים ד:טו

וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם מְאֹ֖ד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם—you should guard your lives well. This is the mitzvah to stay healthy and focus on one’s physical and mental health. CCSA is one way we as a community guard over the lives of our children and raise our children to realize the importance of being careful with their own lives through substance abuse prevention.

Dr. Frohlich is the director of guidance at Yavneh Academy Middle School in Paramus. She has a doctorate in school and child clinical psychology from Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology; a master’s degree and Specialist’s Certificate in School Psychology from Queens College; a master’s degree in Jewish Education from YU’s Azrieli Graduate Institute; and a Judaic teaching certification from the Michlalah Jerusalem College for Women. She is the president of the Yeshiva Counseling Network, an organization of psychologists and counselors in yeshivot of the Metropolitan area.

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