WASHINGTON – Maryland middle school students will be targeted to become anti-tobacco activists under a classroom program being developed by an arm of the nation’s largest teachers union.
Under the program being developed by the National Education Association Health Information Network, teachers may ask students to write anti-tobacco editorials and advertisements, said organization spokeswoman Michele Hodak. Students might also be asked to manage a booth at a health fair and dispense information “advocating a tobacco-free environment,” she said.
“The program’s goal is to motivate and mobilize students, parents and teachers to become tobacco control advocates,” Hodak said.
The $500,000 pilot program will start in Maryland and Connecticut around March, when the organization will send a representative to schools and PTAs to explain the program.
The class assignments will counter what the organization considers tobacco industry marketing campaigns aimed at children, Hodak said.
Tobacco industry representatives in Washington and Annapolis declined to comment on the initiative.
But Health Information Network Executive Director Jerald Newberry said his organization’s effort is the natural extension of anti-smoking lessons already taught in schools.
“In real learning situations, you teach a concept and then encourage kids … to apply that concept to the world,” he said.
The Health Information Network is also developing materials for parents to encourage anti-tobacco advocacy at home, but Newberry said any such activity “will be done in concert with parents.”
If the program is successful in Maryland and Connecticut, it might be expanded to the rest of the country, Hodak said.
Maryland’s Education Department is encouraging the effort but leaves the decision on middle school health classes up to local school boards, said department spokesman Ronald Peiffer.
The Health Information Network is an independently chartered organization that works with the NEA to fund and promote health education projects. The money for the anti-tobacco campaign will come entirely from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Newberry said.
The Health Information Network chose Maryland for the pilot project because of the state’s proximity to the NEA’s Washington headquarters and its participation in the Johnson foundation’s SmokeLess States campaign, Hodak said.
The SmokeLess States campaign funds Smoke-Free Maryland, which builds grass-roots support for public smoking bans, higher cigarette taxes and measures to prevent youth smoking.