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Harcourt School Empowers Its Young Students to Say No to Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke.

Kevin Scully is the principal at Harcourt School, a very small rural school in Kent County, New Brunswick with only 40 students from kindergarten through grade 5. Thanks to a Take Action Against Tobacco Use Grant offered by the New Brunswick Department of Social Development, Scully has been able to implement a tobacco-free living education initiative at his school that has empowered his young students to encourage their families to live healthier and tobacco-free lifestyles. 

“We felt like we had a problem to address in our community in regards to smoking,” says Scully. “We looked online at statistics and saw that the Kent region had a high rate of smokers compared with the rest of the province. We were also physically noticing the smell of smoke on our students’ clothes, so we knew that many parents smoked around their children either in the house and/or inside the car. We felt this was a major issue and felt the need to educate our students and their families on the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke.”

Scully said the school had tried in the past the more traditional approach of sending information and brochures home to parents about not smoking around their children as well as tips and resources on quitting smoking, without much success. “First, you never really know if the parent will receive and read the information at the other end. Second, many parents feel insulted by this approach, as if we are trying to undermine their parenting skills. We saw that this kind of hardline approach only resulted in negative feedback. So we had to try something else. Our staff had many discussions, and we thought that we could maybe get better results if the message came from the children themselves instead of the school authorities.”

Scully’s application for a TATU Grant allowed him to hire two university students to develop an initiative that would empower his school’s young students to encourage their parents to live healthier tobacco-free lifestyles - or at the very least - stop smoking around them. 

“Children have a right not to be exposed to dangerous tobacco smoke,” states Scully. “We wanted our students to know that and to be empowered to ask their families to take action to protect them.” 

Kristen Scully, a university student studying kinesiology at St. Francis Xavior, and Bailey Thériault, a university student studying social work at St. Thomas University, were hired to develop the school’s Live Clean Initiative. “These two bright young ladies are both athletes who are non-smokers and lead by example. They are good role models of healthy living for our students. They have worked with us in the past, so the students were already quite familiar with them. We put them up to the challenge to find creative, engaging ways to get our students excited about and spreading the anti-smoking message among themselves and their families.”

The two university students developed a puppet show for the younger students as well as a Jeopardy-type game for the older students, full of anti-smoking educational material, during the spring of 2015, which they then delivered in the classrooms in the fall of 2015. Following these presentations, teachers integrated the content into literacy modules and homework to further elaborate on the anti-smoking message. 

“The puppet show and the Jeopardy game were so much fun for the children,” says Kevin Scully. “It got them excited, and they went home and talked about what they learned regarding cigarettes and the dangers of smoking with their parents. With these presentations, we are getting the children aware of the harmful effects of cigarettes and starting to engrain the anti-smoking message, so that our children will hopefully not give in to peer pressure to start smoking when they become teenagers. We’re also empowering our children by educating them that it is their right to not be around second-hand smoke at home and in their community.” 

Examples of Jeopardy questions:

Question: Tue or False: Smoking cigarettes is cool

Answer: False

Question: What are cigarettes dipped in to make them white?

Answer: Bleach.

Question: Name three reasons why people might start smoking.

Answer: a) They think it’s cool; b) Their friends/family do it; c) Peer pressure.

Scully said the reaction from parents was overwhelmingly positive. “We had many parents call in to my office to talk about the discussions they had with their children. Parents are much more receptive when it is their child asking them to be healthy around them and not put them in danger. Many parents report that they have stopped smoking in the car or in the house. Some are quitting smoking altogether. If a parent approaches the school for help to quit smoking, we always have some literature on the topic available, and we’re able to point them in the right direction for resources and people that can help.”

Scully adds that thanks to the LiveClean initiative, the school’s custodian, who had been a smoker for the past 35 years, also quit smoking. It made a huge impression on the students, who had now had a real-life example of an adult that has quit smoking, which they can share with the adults in their own families.  

Bravo Harcourt School! We hope your LiveClean has a lasting impact on your students. May they keep such enthusiasm for healthy smoke-free lifestyles as they get older! 

Photos and story used with permission from Harcourt School.

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