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Thursday, September 22, 2016

AHS launches Academy for Tobacco Prevention

  • New interactive resource another tool to help prevent tobacco use among youth 
Alberta Health Services -  Teachers across the province now have access to a new resource to support the delivery of tobacco prevention education with today’s launch of the Academy for Tobacco Prevention.

Developed in partnership with the University of Lethbridge, this initiative from the Tobacco Reduction Program of Alberta Health Services provides teachers with a comprehensive resource for students in Grades 4 to 6 to help them understand the risks of tobacco use and learn ways to resist pressure to use such products.

“Preventing tobacco use among Alberta’s youth is critical to the long-term success of tobacco reduction efforts across the province,” says Dr. Brent Friesen, AHS Medical Officer of Health and Tobacco Lead. “Most smokers start experimenting with cigarettes between the ages of 10 and 18, and the younger individuals start smoking, the more health complications it can cause throughout their lives. This is why smoking among youth is a serious health issue and why it is important to have conversations with young people as early as possible to help prevent future generations from using tobacco.”

The Academy for Tobacco Prevention replaces previous curriculum materials related to smoking prevention education. The new curriculum will be delivered provincewide to students in Grades 4, 5 and 6. In addition to providing interactive online lesson plans, activities and information that teachers can use in their classrooms, the Academy for Tobacco Prevention also includes an interactive card game, Shadows of the Academy.

The game delivers messages about the social, mental and physical harms of tobacco use, complementing what the lesson plans offer in a fun and interactive way while encouraging teamwork and collaboration.

“The resources in the Academy for Tobacco Prevention will help us reach young audiences in an interactive way to teach them about the dangers of tobacco use and help provide them with the skills they need to say no to using tobacco in the future,” says Dr. Friesen.

Katherine Haight, a community health nursing instructor with the University of Lethbridge, led the development of the Academy for Tobacco Prevention resources, replacing old and outdated resources to better support teachers in delivering tobacco prevention in the classroom.  The new materials support teachers without them needing to be experts in tobacco-related content, says Haight.

“This is an innovative approach to health education,” says Haight. “Teachers now have easy access to pre-developed presentations that are Smart Board compatible, highly interactive and visually appealing for students.

“The lessons include a variety of teaching and learning strategies in order to engage all types of learners in the classroom,” adds Haight. “Thanks to the new resources, lesson plans and discussion materials are readily available in easy to use, engaging formats.

“And the lessons go beyond the facts about youth tobacco use. They are designed to help students recognize tobacco-related risk factors, identify and develop resiliency skills, and practise resiliency skills in a safe learning environment before students are faced with a real-life situation.”

The new resources were piloted in classrooms by third- and fourth-year University of Lethbridge nursing students in classrooms as part of their community-health practice courses. Last fall, nursing students worked with six schools to deliver the program, gathering feedback from students and teachers alike. Haight says the next step is to evaluate the program over the long term to examine the impact on youth tobacco use.

For parents such as Laurie Neher, whose son received the program in his Grade 4 class at Dr. Gerald Probe Elementary School in Lethbridge, the resources have sparked valuable conversations around the family dinner table.

“I was impressed with the level of engagement and curiosity that my son expressed when he returned home from school,” she says. “He spoke about what he had learned and was disgusted with how many chemicals were included in tobacco products, and he kept telling me how cool the game was. He was worried about two family members who currently smoke, and we’ve had many discussions since then where he has shared what he learned with family. While both were motivated to try quitting before my son spoke with them, I think his enthusiasm, youth and compassion may have actually helped them take the next step.”

Neher, who is a Grade 4 teacher at Nicholas Sheran Community School in Lethbridge, says she witnessed a similar reaction and enthusiasm to the card game among her students.

“The game was extremely well-received,” she says. “It teaches scenarios and habits that students need to role play and practise before they are presented with difficult, real-life situations. I liked listening to them problem-solve as they played.”

The Academy for Tobacco Prevention is available to teachers to access online from https://academy.albertaquits.ca. Teachers can also order The Shadows of the Academy card game online.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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