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Kugluktuk High School peddling healthy choices
Programs use positive messages to teach young people

Beth Brown
Northern News Services
Monday, November 14, 2016

Kugluktuk High School is taking on addictions awareness sitting down.

NNSL photo/graphic

Kugluktuk High School student Matty Nivingalok perches on a pedal desk during reading time. The alternative desk keeps students active. - photo courtesy of Jonathon Lee

Some classrooms in the school are now equipped with wiggle desks and pedal bike desks so students can be active while they study. The school also has a few standing desks and a treadmill desk.

"A lot of our Grade 9s last year were pretty addicted to smokeless tobacco," said vice-principal Johnathon Lee.

The unique furniture is used to help students know what it feels like to be healthy, and then make their own choices to avoid substance use based on that knowledge.

"We need them to know that feeling, that accomplishment, that energy, so we can say, 'When you smoke, this is how you feel, when you are in a healthy pursuit this is how you feel.' It's all about getting endorphins moving in your body, releasing them. If you recognize healthy pursuits then you can compare them against the unhealthy ones," Lee said.

"It's not enough to say, 'Stop smoking.' It's not, 'No you can't,' it's 'Yes you can.' It's 'Yes, you can be healthy,' not, 'No, you can't smoke.'"

The health curriculum for the territory does include education on addictions - including alcohol, tobacco use, and illicit and common drugs - but KHS health teacher Maria Csaba takes things to the next level, Lee said.

"She's really passionate about health class. She sees it as a core subject, she knows the kids need that explicit instruction to lead a healthy lifestyle."

The active seating, cycling and stand 'n' study options take that healthy message out of health class, and into other classrooms like math and English.

Lee said the school wants to keep addictions issues an open conversation for students, so youth don't feel judged but know that addiction is important to address and work through.

"We know the realities here where a kid might start smoking cigarettes or chewing snuff. I've seen six-, seven- and eight-year-olds chewing snuff. At that age you don't know what you're doing to your health."

In other schools throughout the territory, RCMP are educating students about the dangers of addictions.

This happened recently through school presentations in Kugluktuk following a theft of the opioid fentanyl from a community health clinic.

But police also work with children by delivering the D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a 10-week addictions awareness course that teaches students about stress and coping, peer pressure and bullying related to drugs and alcohol. The course talks about the facts behind addiction and reasons why people become reliant on substances.

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