BALTIC, S.D. (KELO) — Roughly 300 people die every day from a drug overdose. Right now, 20 schools across KELOLAND have adopted a new educational program that teaches kids the dangers of substance use. This year Emily’s Hope launched a K through 5th grade course that walks students through various topics.

Abby Danko has been a school counselor at Baltic for 13 years.

She says teaching students about topics like substance use is crucial to their education.

“Our kiddos are being exposed to it at such an early age. You see firsthand students who have that occurring currently in their own family units and outside of their family units, friends, or peers who may have, individuals who might be struggling with substance use or substance abuse, and it really is an important topic that needs to start at an early age,” said Abby Danko, a school counselor for Baltic.

The curriculum covers different topics depending on students’ grades and focuses on the impact your choices can have.

“It’s not just about substance use and abuse. It’s the whole gamut that we need to be focusing on. It’s not just saying ‘no to drugs,’ it’s why are we saying no to drugs. What is it doing to our bodies. What is it doing to our brain,” said Danko.

The program uses colorful characters and music to engage the students.
Third graders Mason Pickett and Sienna Klein say they enjoy the lessons that teach them about their brains.

“Every time we get to listen to the song that’s my favorite because I’m always up singing it,” Pickett, a third grader at Baltic.

“That alcohol and medicine that is not prescribed to you is not good for you,” Klein, a third grader at Baltic.

Former KELOLAND anchor and Founder of Emily’s Hope, Angela Kennecke, says the passion behind this project came from her personal ties with substance use disorder after her daughter Emily passed away from fentanyl poisoning in 2018.

All the more reason to try to reach out to younger kids now.

“It’s really exciting to me to see this curriculum in the classroom really come to life. I developed it because I felt that if my daughter would have received more of this type of education at a younger age when we’re still really growing, our brains are growing, and we’re open to learning a lot of things that may have led her to make different choices,” said Kennecke.

Emily’s Hope curriculum is free for teachers to use.
Last year the organization ran a piloted version throughout nine schools before being rolled out.

“So we started with elementary school because really there’s very little out there. We wanted to offer something and we felt it was important to start talking to kids at a younger age while their teachers and their parents still had much more influence on them than social media and their peers,” said Kennecke.

This program addresses topics like drugs and alcohol without the use of scare tactics but rather poses questions to get students to think.

“For example, in kindergarten, we talk about medication versus candy, who is a trusted adult, very basic things. And every year we build upon those lessons until we get into the third grade and we talk about what substances do to the brain and what substance use disorder is,” Kennecke.

Danko says it’s lessons like these that can influence them later in life.
“It’s being proactive, and that’s what we need to be doing being proactive. And we need to make sure that we’re giving students, kids and families this important information so that way, in the future, you know, they can make decisions and understand what those decisions are going to ultimately do for them,” said Danko.

Coming next is an upperclassman curriculum for middle and high schoolers.
“My hope is, is that the Emily’s Hope substance use prevention curriculum goes nationwide. I think it’s needed everywhere,” said Kennecke.

Earlier this month Emily’s Hope received $30,000 from the South Dakota Community Foundation which will be used to further their educational efforts in South Dakota.
Click here for more information about Emily’s Hope substance use prevention curriculum.