Highland Hills Middle School students, from left, Stephanie Wagner, Katie Davis, Alicia Wathen and Kylie Davis hustle to finish a project inside the school cafeteria during Afternoon Rocks, an after school program hosted by Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Service. Staff photo by Kevin McGloshen

Have you drank alcohol before?

That was the question 13-year-old John Ulmer asked a couple of his friends recently at Highland Hills Middle School as he sat around a table playing a game called “Stress Bingo” in an after-school program designed to teach young people the skills to reject the temptation of drugs and alcohol.

It was a question Cole Thornton, 13, didn’t hesitate to answer.

“No,” Thornton blurted out. “But I have drank a Red Bull before.”

If the energy drink Red Bull packs the most punch of anything Thornton drinks through the rest of his teenage years, he may have a program called Afternoons R.O.C.K. — which stands for Recreation, Object lessons, Culture and values and Knowledge — to thank.

Based off a curriculum used around the state — and funded by the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction — the Afternoons R.O.C.K. program is offered in elementary and middle schools throughout the year in three-to-eight-week after school sessions. Participation is entirely voluntary, but there are incentives to those who join, such as Target gift cards and other prizes.

Adrian Grisanti, who runs the program in Floyd County for Our Place Inc., says the curriculum isn’t just about telling the kids to “say no” to drugs.

“The hope is that the kids learn to make good decisions across the board, not just with drugs and alcohol,” Grisanti said. “They are learning skills they can take into life with them.”

Skills such as stress management, which Grisanti reinforced with a game of bingo. In place of numbers, the students put different activities they could do to relieve stress — such as dancing.

“I like to sing and dance,” Ulmer said as he made his stress bingo card. Reading, one of the other choices, didn’t make the cut.

“People read when they’re stressed?” Ulmer asked rhetorically.

Grisanti said stress is often cited as a reason kids Ulmer’s age turn to drugs and alcohol. Boredom coupled with unstructured time after school is another.

“Studies have shown that most kids that try alcohol and tobacco do it for the first time between the hours of 3 and 6,” Grisanti said.

The after-school time includes homework help, a snack and a host of games, activities and outings — from kickball to laser tag.

About 300 students in Floyd County have participated in the program each year since it was started in 1997, said Grisanti, who runs programs annually in three middle schools and seven elementary schools.

Alec Snead, 13, has enjoyed the program enough to come back for a third year.

“I’ve learned the effects of drugs on your body and I’ve learned how using drugs can make your life go down the drain,” Snead said.

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