8th Grade World Issues Class Final Project: Addiction in the NEK

Each year the 8th grade at The Riverside School culminate their World Issues class with a service-learning project based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. After thorough investigation about how these issues are represented in their local area, the students used evidence found in statistics and local headlines to support their conclusion that the health issue of addiction is especially relevant in northern New England and the Northeast Kingdom.

In order to learn more about the issue, students read, researched, discussed, watched the locally produced film The Hungry Heart, and invited local experts into class.

Once they felt reasonably knowledgeable on the topic, teacher Nelia Rath challenged the class to do something about it. The students were unanimous in their opinion that what was most needed was to raise awareness among their peers in Caledonia County. And so they decided to collaborate to create an informational packet to share with local school administrators that included plans and materials for a five lesson unit, appropriate for middle and high schoolers.

Also included is a list of people in recovery who would like to come speak to classes, and a copy of the documentary The Hungry Heart, which is about addiction in Vermont. The class was grateful that after reaching out to local filmmaker, Bess O’Brien, about their project, she offered them 15 copies of the DVD at a very reduced price.

In 2014, then Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his entire State of the State address to the crisis of addiction in Vermont. This alone says that it is important, but some of the things that really surprised the students, as they wrote in their cover letter to introduce the project to school leaders were “that anyone you see can be an addict, no matter what they look like or where they are from. People take drugs for a variety of reasons, including stress, depression, peer pressure, poverty, or over-prescribed medicines.” Another thing that stunned them was that “addiction can cost thousands of dollars a day, and this expense can drive people to steal or commit other crimes just to support their habit.” The scariest thing to them is that “one in ten Americans will develop an addiction of some sort in their lives,” which means that it’s likely that someone in their classes will someday become an addict.

The staggering statistics and harsh realities were hard to believe but the class concluded that there is no one solution to this problem, but everyone can do their part to stop this public health crisis.