Officer Bret Rodenz sees it time and time again.
In his six years on the job, the Waupaca School District’s police liason officer has dealt with middle school students in trouble because of the choices they’ve made, such as trying marijuana or alcohol or getting caught for shoplifting.
Rodenz uses a program – CounterAct – that helps steer Waupaca’s fifth-graders in the right direction when it comes to making those choices.
The latest CounterAct graduates gathered Feb. 14 in the Waupaca Middle School auditorium to show their parents what they’ve learned. The students of Dana Koeppler, Jenny Lewis and Tricia Deuman performed 17 skits that Rodenz based on actual situations he’s encountered over the years.
“The four core values that I teach are one, check it out: ask open-ended questions before you get yourself into a situation that will be difficult to get out of,” Rodenz said. “Two, talk or think about the consequences. Three, come up with positive legal alternatives that can be done. Four, no matter what the others do, you need to stick to your positive alternative.”
Each student sported a blue CounterAct T-shirt while participating in a skit. One of the skits showed students catching another student trying to steal a video from a store and talked the student into putting it back. Others featured kids trying alcohol or marijuana at a friend’s home while the parents were away.
“This is preventable and my goal is to get the conversation started,” Rodenz said. “Parents don’t want to take accountability with their kids. They’re not drinking alcohol in the hallways, it happens after school.”
Rodenz said recent statistics from Wisconsin show:
• Nineteen percent of students tried alcohol before age 13.
• Twenty-four percent of high school students admitted to binge drinking.
• Thirty-seven percent of students tried marijuana at least once.
Marijuana use is increasing in Wisconsin, Rodenz said.
“Some people think, ‘Oh, it’s only pot,’” he said. “It is a gateway drug that opens the door for other things.”
Access to prescription drugs is another program that Rodenz has encountered.
“This is becoming a problem,” he said. “It’s too easy for kids to get their hands on them. They’re in almost every single household. Trust your kids, but don’t trust them with prescriptions.”
CounterAct is a six-session curriculum that involves police officers, schools and families in preventing kids form using alcohol and other drugs and helping them avoid using violence as a way to solve problems.
The program provides students in grades 4-6 with specific skills they can apply in real-life situations. The skits gave the students a chance to demonstrate those skills.
The curriculum includes homework assignments to be completed with parents or other adults; poster activities used in the classroom; and a set of slides or a PowerPoint presentation that provides structure and organization to the program.
Three area businesses – Waupaca Foundry, First National Bank and Farmers State Bank – provide funding for the program, according to Rodenz.
“This is my sixth year of doing the program and they have been sponsoring a minimum of $650 each year, so about $3,900 since I have been here,” he said. “They have been sponsoring a lot longer then that.”
The school’s three other fifth-grade classes will begin the program later this school year.
Peer pressure plays a big role as far as what choices students make, according to Rodenz.
“Peer pressure will win because a they want to have their friends,” he said. “They’re looking for that acceptance.
“Be sure you know where your kids are,” he added. “I need you to keep an eye on your kids.”