The gap in training for teachers related to the opioid crisis’ effect on students is being filled by a West Virginia University partnership that will develop and distribute materials to help the state’s teachers support their students who have family members with substance use disorders.
The Project TRAIN initiative— Teacher Resources for Addiction Impact Now— is supported, in part, by a collaboration with the Region 5 Comprehensive Center at Westat. The funding will allow Jessica Troilo, associate dean for academic affairs, and Frankie Tack, clinical assistant professor and program coordinator of the addiction studies minor, both in the WVU College of Education and Human Services, to reach teachers with online training to assist with classroom management and help prevent teacher burnout as it relates to the opioid crisis.
According to a report from the non-profit United Hospital Fund, West Virginia has the highest rate of children affected by the opioid crisis at 54 out of every 1000 children being affected.
“We hope to build the capacity of teachers in responding to the challenges of the opioid crisis,” Troilo said. “What that means is increasing the confidence of teachers in managing and working with students impacted by substance use disorders in the home. We want to provide them with the tools they need to be successful.”
Troilo and Tack have partnered with Lauren Prinzo, an assistant professor and Extension Specialist in community and economic development in WVU Extension Service’s Family and Community Development Unit, to develop and deliver the training modules to educators throughout West Virginia and surrounding states.
“WVU Extension is working across units to find ways that we impact substance misuse across the state. When this project came along and we talked about partnering, it was a perfect fit,” Prinzo said. “We have county-based faculty in all 55 counties of West Virginia, and there’s a lot of interest among our faculty in working directly with schools and youth to address this issue and support people in recovery.”
The training modules currently being created by Troilo, Tack and Prinzo will cover four main topics – an addictions overview, a review of family systems and their impact on students’ classroom behaviors, strategies for interacting with parents and students, and teacher self-care.
The content chosen for the trainings was inspired, in part, by a survey of nearly 3,000 West Virginia teachers conducted by Troilo, Tack, and Sara Anderson in 2019. Some of the survey’s key findings included that 70 percent of West Virginia teachers reported that they had never received training specific to the needs of students with parents or caregivers with substance use issues. Additionally, 70 percent of teachers surveyed reported some level of burnout – emotional exhaustion, cynicism, lack of personal accomplishment – on a monthly basis.
“One element that makes the training unique is that we’re also focusing on the teachers themselves and their own self-care, as there was a high level of burnout expressed in the survey,” Tack said.
The program is being piloted this summer in a webinar format due to COVID-19 in Jackson, Logan, and Marion Counties. The training will be rolled out more broadly later this year and during 2021, with the goal of eventually making the training available to teachers in all fifty-five West Virginia counties. Future trainings will be conducted by Extension Service agents with oversight from Troilo, Tack and Prinzo.
“The Extension agents are already engrained in the communities and have relationships with the schools and boards of education, so we thought this was a natural fit for the project,” Troilo said. “We’ll be training the Extension agents in the program and then they’ll go out and deliver the program.”
The modules will ultimately be available as an online resource for teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.
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