The Grand Rapids school district recently received a five-year grant for programs that promote positive norms in its community.

The $125,000 Drug-Free Communities grant will help fund two programs, Rapids Rising and the Grand Rapids in Prevention Coalition.

“I know that this grant has the potential to grow off of the work that has already been done,” said Angela Oelke, licensed school social worker for Grand Rapids high school and middle school and Grand Rapids in Prevention Coalition co-chair. “We will continue to focus on correcting misperceptions, provide healthy activities for our youth to engage in, and empower youth and adults to have open communication.”

Rapids Rising and the Grand Rapids in Prevention Coalition are two programs at Grand Rapids High School and Robert J. Elkington Middle School that work to reduce and delay underage alcohol and substance use by empowering young people and correcting misperceptions about use.

“We use a framework called the science of the positive to really message about how most kids are making a great choice,” said Nick Adams, prevention coordinator at Grand Rapids school district.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Adams said the programs use data from student surveys the district conducts as well as the Minnesota Department of Education student survey. He said they always look at the data in a positive light as opposed to a deficit model.

“We could have focused on the fact that in our first survey we had 17% of our student body who was using alcohol regularly, but instead we promote the fact that most kids aren’t using,” Adams said.

Adams said after four years of promoting healthy norms, the district has seen an increase in healthy behaviors.

“That has kind of been a revelation for me because I came into this work as a deficit model type guy,” he said. “Now I’m really starting to understand the power of positive behavior and promoting that kind of behavior.”

Grand Rapids High School Principal Matt Dass said the biggest positive from the programs is having students step up and take on the responsibility of having the difficult conversations and acknowledging the issue of underage substance use.

“My favorite part is you have a group of adults who are supporting a group of students towards achieving a common goal and we’re also bringing our entire community together and working alongside them,” Dass said. “I think that’s rare to see happen and it’s really nice to see the support and there’s clearly interest in the work of this grant both through our kids and through our community members.”

Rapids Rising and Grand Rapids in Prevention Coalition focused on underaged alcohol use during the first five years of the program using the Planning and Implementation grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. Adams said with the Drug-Free Communities Grant, the group wants to start focusing on other substances as well, such as vaping, over the next five years.

“We have a whole new cohort of students who are going to benefit from this and I think rounding this out with another five years is really going to help make this like a sustainable attitude within our school and our community,” Dass said.