Austintown Local School District has received a $26,000 grant to build a drug free future. The grant is new to Ohio and was launched by Governor John Kasich and Ohio's First Lady Karen Kasich.
''We're going to use our grant funds to expand our PANDA program in Austintown,'' said Barb Kliner from the Board of Education office.
The PANDA (Prevent And Neutralize Drug and Alcohol Abuse) club is a program set up in area schools by Meridian Community Care. The program has been around for more than 30 years and deals with drug and alcohol abuse as well as bullying. Kliner said in prior years, Austintown has used Safe and Drug Free School grants to help fund the program, but the availability of those funds has changed. She said school districts now have to compete for it along with parochial and charter schools.
The new state program is called ''Start Talking: Building a Drug Free Future.'' It targets middle school students in fifth through eighth grades and is available to school districts that have over 40 percent of its student population eligible for free and reduced lunches. Austintown is around the fifty percent mark and has qualified under that requirement.
Among a couple of programs that will be held with the grant money will be a New Year's Eve party at the school for students and parents. Another proposed event would be a family field day with team building games and venues.
''Our family liaison through online school Falcon Pride will work with us on a new pilot program as well,'' Kliner said.
The pilot program will help kids and families when parents go through the court system. The program will be a joint effort between Mahoning County Children's Services, the Juvenile Justice Center and juvenile court. Kliner said it will offer support through the school district when parents are in the justice system for drug and alcohol offenses. Kliner said the courts can order the family to participate in the Start Talking programs as part of probation.
''By connecting with the court system and local agencies, we are hoping to not only reach families that voluntarily want education, but also have the opportunity to service families who are most in need of the support, education and treatment who would not otherwise receive such services,'' Kliner said.
She said discussions are presently being held with the court system to work out the details of the programs.