On October 16, 2017, 38 Westchester high schools, 400 students, and school staff joined the conversation to address the opioid and heroin crisis by exploring paths to substance misuse and addiction in our communities. This was the first introduction for many of our schools districts to CODA. The Youth Summit was presented by the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH) in partnership with the harris project, and included over 60 volunteers from various agencies, providers, and community based organizations.
The real work happened when the students broke into work groups and joined our incredible facilitators. There they explored the paths to substance misuse and addiction – including mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, etc), injuries (sports, wisdom tooth removal, etc), and brain changes caused by use, learned from each other what was happening across the county, and then developed plans of action to bring the messages and activities back to their schools to create “COMMUNITIES THAT CARE.”
CODA programming was piloted in Westchester County and Greenwich CT at Bedford, Briarcliff, Greenwich, Harrison, Hendrick Hudson, Irvington, John Jay, Lakeland, New Rochelle, Walter Panas, Pleasantville, Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES, Somers, Southern Westchester BOCES, Yorktown; St. Christopher’s Inc.- Clarke Academy high schools in late 2016.
This initial pilot culminated in the celebration of the first annual CODA Week (April 1-8, 2017), and featured a variety of youth-led activities ranging from: announcements over the public address system; display tables set up in the cafeteria with wrist bands, t-shirts, and other awareness materials; posting pictures in the school of celebrities who have publicly discussed their CODA challenges; displaying messages of encouragement and compassion on school doors, walls, and ceilings; hosting “mocktail parties” to associate fun in social situations without the need for alcohol; holding class and assembly presentations with outside speakers; and, many other activities to strengthen student involvement and connectedness to the messaging and goals of the CODA movement.
By all accounts the inaugural CODA Week was a resounding success. The reaction from school administration, staff, students, parents, and community members has been incredible. Special thanks to Dr. Mark Herceg and the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health for their support; Ellen Moorehouse Executive Director and Student Assistance Services Inc. for their partnership; and, all of the school districts involved for being part of the creation of a movement! The Lakeland School District graciously allowed a News Event to take place at Lakeland High School on Friday, April 7th. Special thanks to Principal Chris Cummings, the CODA Advisors, and the students who participated!
Thank you to the CODA Club students from PNW BOCES Fox Meadow (especially Q) for a special CODA Week celebration featuring the debut of the original CODA theme song “You Are Not Alone”