Model Programs/Best Practices

Colorado Curriculum Gains National Recognition

Location: Colorado By Becky Lewis Published October 2017

Looking for free curriculum on digital citizenship, relationships, substance abuse and distracted driving? Just say Y.E.S.S.

Looking for materials that will educate parents? Just say Y.E.S.S.

Looking for instructor certification? Just say Y.E.S.S.

The Douglas County (Colo.) Sheriff’s Office launched its Youth Education and Safety in Schools (Y.E.S.S.) program in 2009, using materials created by Deputy Jay Martin, a trained educator and curriculum developer. The program’s positive results drew national attention that has resulted in the materials being adopted and provided free of charge through the website Digital Futures Initiative (DFi) (www.dfinow.org). On that website, school districts and law enforcement agencies can find links to lesson plans, tools and resources for both classroom instruction and for parent academy sessions that convey crucial information. A certification program for teachers and SROs who want to use the materials rounds out the DFi offerings. Through October 2017, some 160 instructors in 29 states had earned certification and begun implementing at least part of the program.

“We started Y.E.S.S. because we wanted to expand the instruction we were providing in schools to something more than drug education,” Martin says. “We added what at that time we called Internet Safety, initially focusing on MySpace and instant messaging.”

With smartphones leading youth into the social media explosion, Internet Safety became Digital Citizenship, and Martin went on to add lessons on Relationships and Distracted Driving. Y.E.S.S. incorporates three 45-minute lessons in fifth or sixth grade, six sessions each in seventh and eighth grades, and three more in ninth into Douglas County’s health curriculum. Schools provide parent academies as part of orientation or back-to-school nights, or are offered as larger community-based events.

“We started Y.E.S.S. because we wanted to expand the instruction we were providing in schools to something more than drug education,” Martin says. “We added what at that time we called Internet Safety, initially focusing on MySpace and instant messaging.”

With smartphones leading youth into the social media explosion, Internet Safety became Digital Citizenship, and Martin went on to add lessons on Relationships and Distracted Driving. Y.E.S.S. incorporates three 45-minute lessons in fifth or sixth grade, six sessions each in seventh and eighth grades, and three more in ninth into Douglas County’s health curriculum. Schools provide parent academies as part of orientation or back-to-school nights, or are offered as larger community-based events.

“We try to cover the gamut of what’s going on in kids’ lives today. The lessons include hands-on activities and center on emotional intelligence,” Martin says. “Kids today learn differently from previous generations. They talk to devices, not to people, and they lack emotional intelligence. All of our lessons focus on learning to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions, and we try to help them recognize when they’re among other people, they should put their devices in their pockets to help develop their emotional intelligence.”

The emotional intelligence issue makes the parent academy a key piece of the program, Martin says, because “we have them for only 45 minutes, but the parents have them for their entire lives.” Parents can help to teach emotional intelligence to their children. During the Academies he suggests parents read three books – iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us (Jean M. Twenge), UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World (Michele Borba) and The Collapse of Parenting–How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-ups (Dr. Leonard Sax). Martin says these books and research show a focus on the prevalence of getting away from “every child gets a trophy” in the schools of parenting and how children need to learn to fail to be able to cope with adulthood. This perceived shift has grown more pronounced since 2012 as smartphones and social media have become pervasive, he says, and while “they’re less likely to have sex or to experiment with alcohol, they’re also not interested in learning to drive and explore the world. Many of them don’t get their first taste of getting out of the house until they’re somewhere between the ages of 18 and 25.”

Performing that kind of painstaking research stems from Martin’s background in education, and he uses those same skills to update the Y.E.S.S. materials every six months. Y.E.S.S. meets the standards of the Colorado state health curriculum, and when the program expanded nationally through DFi the curriculum was compared to Nebraska state standards and it met those as well.

“Whether we meet standards is always a big question with schools, so we’ve done a lot to ensure their minds are at ease on that score,” Martin says. “We want to reassure them that we’re not trying to replace their teaching with something else. Rather, we’re enhancing what they’re required to cover.”
Some of those efforts include working with a Denver research firm to evaluate the program and work toward having it be formally considered an evidence-based program. Douglas County has also applied for a grant to do a controlled evaluation that would place Y.E.S.S. on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration list of promising and effective programs.

“We want folks to have confidence that this isn’t just some homegrown program that somebody slapped together. We do everything we can to make sure we’re having a long-term positive effect,” says Program Coordinator Phyllis Harvey. While Martin and two other deputies take care of teaching Y.E.S.S. in the schools, Harvey leads a complementary community component, recruiting partners who can provide subject-matter expertise, volunteer their assistance in implementing parent academies and other community events, and help spread the word about what Y.E.S.S. has to offer. Harvey also arranges for a resource fair highlighting community mental health services that takes place prior to the parent academy sessions. Douglas County also offers two different types of community-based suicide prevention training that are either low-cost or no-cost, and use curricula that are listed on an international register of best practices.
“Suicide prevention is not what the deputies focus on directly in the classroom, but all topics, in a roundabout way, are suicide prevention. Bullying, substance abuse…they all connect,” Harvey says.