Fighting substance abuse early on
• MCG program helps Carver families avoid smoking risks
By Jennifer Flowers
Many Carver Elementary School students and their families are more aware of the dangers of smoking and the ways in which they can avoid it or quit due to the implementation of Project WIN (Working In uNison to Prevent Substance Abuse), a research study being performed by Dr. Martha Tingen of the Medical College of Georgia.
Funded by the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases (MHDDAD) Region 2, Project WIN meets 80 percent of the state's Quality Core Curriculum requirements for health, making it excellent for implementation in schools.
The comprehensive approach includes pre- and post-testing surveys, carbon and swab tests, a life skills training program and cessation assistance.
The whole program is developed around the idea that parents and children have a strong influence on one another that spans to affect the decisions each group makes about smoking.
The idea is that parental involvement in a program that promotes smoke-free living will reinforce positive teachings for the children and encourage parents to live smoke-free lives as well.
"I think parents have a tremendous impact on the students," said Dr. Tingen.
She is assisted in her study at Carver by Mr. Donavon Reimche, Master in Health Education and Physical Therapist, who is working on a PhD; Katie Altizer, who is working on a masters in psychology; and Stacey Crawford, a research assistant for cessation serving alongside Dr. Tingen and colleague Dr. Jeanette Andrews.
Originally, Dr. Tingen had hoped to perform research at all three elementary schools in the county and approached Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune with her idea. In her grant proposal, she requested enough funds to allow her to work with all the fourth graders enrolled in the Jefferson County School System, but she only received enough to do testing at one school.
Bethune recommended Carver. Dr. Tingen quickly began to work with administrators at the school to get the project underway.
Letters and packets of information were sent to the parents of fourth grade students early in the school year, informing them about the new program. Many of them attended an informational session held to explain the research process to parents and students.
"The majority of parents and students went to the information session and gave permission for carbon testing," said Angela Crawford, who serves as guidance counselor at CES. "Only two or three students are not participating."
Lavon Wells, who serves as the parent resource person at the school, assisted Dr. Tingen in making home visits to some of the parents to further explain the program and discuss cessation, extending recruitment efforts beyond the schoolhouse and into the home.
Part of the research process includes carbon testing and swabbing, both of which can be used to reveal whether or not the students themselves smoke, or are often exposed to smoking in the home. Parents undergo the same tests.
One of the most important parts of Project WIN is the life skills training it provides.
Fourth grade classes were split into two groups for the life skills component of the program, one that received the materials before Christmas holidays and one that will receive training this semester.
As extra funding became available, Dr. Tingen found that she would be able to test third and fifth grade students at the school as well. However, because there was not as much time to inform parents of the process, many chose not to allow their children to participate in the program.
Still, every third-through-fifth grade student in the school is receiving life skills training, regardless of whether or not he or she is participating in the study.
Around half of the third graders and half of the fifth graders are a part of the research.
Also, third and fifth grade classes are receiving the information from the eight sessions in a single sitting, whereas the information is given at the pace of one lesson per week for the fourth grade students.
The Life Skills Training Program introduces students to important life skills through eight different lessons taught by Crawford, who visits each classroom to do the sessions.
The series provides instruction on self esteem, decision making, smoking information, advertising and how it works to promote certain harmful products, dealing with stress, communication skills, social skills and assertiveness training.
The program is designed to prevent drug usage and targets smoking, as it is one of the most potent gateway drugs.
After each lesson, parents involved in Dr. Tingen's research are able to follow along in a parent packet to help augment what their children learned in the classroom. Parents are given a video, written materials and a schedule as a part of the second step of the program, which promotes anti-tobacco socialization in the home.
"It just reinforces what they're learning here at school," Crawford said.
The packet teaches parents how to be a good role model, monitor smoking, have a family commitment to being drug-free, give appropriate and consistent discipline and take a clear stand on drugs. It only takes thirty minutes each week, and parents follow the schedule so that what they talk about in their lesson that week compliments what their child learned in his or her class.
"It really emphasizes that concerned parents can achieve results," Dr. Tingen said of the home-based element.
Parents of fourth grade students have been given an additional opportunity to benefit from the program. Those who have a desire to stop smoking can be provided with the Habitrol® patch, an over-the-counter nicotine replacement tool.
Before being permitted to use Habitrol®, parents go through a screening process to ensure that it is safe for them to use the medication.
Researchers see to it that they are tested for high blood pressure and make sure that they are not taking any medications that could interfere with patch usage.
Everything related to smoking cessation, including the patch, is funded by the Medical College of Georgia's School of Nursing under the guidance of Dr. Andrews, DHD, RN, through a small grant.
"The school has been incredibly supportive," Dr. Tingen said.
The program provides additional motivation in the form of gift certificates. Parents who complete the program will receive a $25 gift certificate to Family Dollar or Dollar General, while participating students will each receive a $10 gift certificate for their efforts.
"It's really a great drug-free incentive program," Crawford said.
While both parents and students involved in the program are offered a number of benefits, perhaps the greatest advantage of participation in Project WIN is that of a healthier attitude toward smoking within the community as a whole.
When individuals change their habits for the better, the entire area experiences the positive impact.
Residents feel the burn as heating costs skyrocket
• Wrens hears complaints from citizens regarding natural gas bills; officials say prices are dropping
By Parish Howard
Gas prices have been going up, and not just at the gasoline pumps.
A number of jaws dropped when January heating bills went out last week, particularly in Wrens, where quite a few residents saw what they feel were record highs.
Wrens City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson said last week, after city bills went out, that they had received a number of calls from the city gas customers.
"We've had several re-reads and from what we can tell, it looks like usage is about the same as last year this time," she said. "The difference is in higher fuel costs."
According to city records, the January billing for city services saw more than 170 residential bills between $300 and $399, 62 between $400 and $499, and nearly 30 over $500 just for the month of December. There were five between $600 and $699, four between $700 and $799 and four residences with city bills between $800 and $982.
The cost for natural gas service was by far the highest portion of any of these bills.
Johnson said that, according to her figures, the raw cost of natural gas has almost tripled since last year. According to Southern Natural's figures on the spot market price of whole sale natural gas, one unit of gas in October of 2004 was $5.67. The same unit in Oct. 2005 was $13.99. In November of this year, that cost rose to $14.01.
"And that's before adding in the delivery costs and taxes and all those numbers," Johnson said.
Rusty Hough, a senior business analyst for the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia (MGAG), says that Wrens' gas customers aren't alone. These are the figures with which every gas customer across the state is currently working.
According to Hough, these prices are set by supply and demand.
"The hurricanes damaged a number of refineries and infrastructure along the gulf coastline, as well as a number of the wells off shore," he said. "There's plenty of gas out there, but as of last week, there was still 19 percent of that gas shut in, and we just can't get to it."
Gas prices customers see are based first on the price of the wholesale commodity, but also on fixed costs such as any existing contracts cities have with gas transporters, and also on the city's margin, or what it makes off the gas sales to cover its costs.
"The city's margin is $3 per unit," Johnson said. "There's an awful lot that comes out of that $3: maintenance on pipe, odorization of the system, buying new pipe."
In our area, she said, city margins range from $2.50 to $4.
"We understand that it's tough and that people are having a hard time," Johnson said. "But we are really just passing along the cost."
The good news, according to both Johnson and Hough, is that wholesale prices are already going down. In December, the bills which customers just received, wholesale gas was actually cheaper than in November. The spot market price was down to $11.36, a full $2.65 cheaper than the month before. January's price will be $11.67, but forecasts for February and March appear to be closer to the $10 mark.
In the Meantime
Hough says these forecasts, which change on a daily basis, are partly based on weather, supply and use forecasts.
In addition, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Monday that legislation cutting in half the state sales tax on natural gas and liquid propane for residential heating during the winter months of 2006 have been filed in the State House of Representatives. While it may not make a huge difference on each bill, it is expected to save Georgia taxpayers between $16 and $20 million this winter.
In addition, in December the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Reauthorization Act of 2005, sponsored by the 12th District's own U.S. Congressman John Barrow, which includes natural gas reform provisions. Barrow's office says the proposal should "bring some transparency to the natural gas market and help crack down on individuals or corporations that deliberately gouge consumers by inflating natural gas prices for their own profit."
Catherin Matthews of Wrens is just one of the residents who was shocked upon receiving her bill, which was over $300.
MGAG suggests energy saving tips
"I just turned my thermostat on, set it at 68 degrees, like a week before Christmas," Matthews said. "We haven't even seen cold weather yet. I'm a single person and I can't afford to pay a $500 (heating) bill. Here it is, right after Christmas, taxes just paid and now this."
She echoes the feelings of many citizens across the county. At least one other citizen was on the Wrens council's agenda to discuss his bill and others were expected to attend the meeting as well.
"I told them that I would pay this bill, but then to just turn my gas off," Matthews said. "I'll have to find some other way to keep warm."
1. Change filters monthly and service your HVAC unit.
2. Seal cracks around doors and windows.
3. Wear multilayer clothing inside.
4. Pull curtains close at night, and open during the day.
5. Lower the thermostat.
Wadley resident upset with officer
• Police chief and mayor say the incident has been handled, citizen still feels officer did not handle situation appropriately
By Ben Roberts
For the second time in three months, a city resident has come before the Wadley City Council to complain about the conduct of a Wadley Police Department (WAPD) officer.
Mary Ann Braswell spoke at the end of Monday's regular meeting to complain about the way Sgt. Wesley Lewis handled an altercation on Jordan Street the night of Dec. 28.
According to the WAPD incident report, Braswell, as well as Dehetria Braswell and Moniquiki Brown, was charged with Disorderly Conduct as a result of the altercation.
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In a letter she read and presented to council members, Braswell accused Sgt. Lewis of misconduct, false statements and threats. She also asked council members to take disciplinary action against Lewis.
WAPD Chief Paul Jordan was absent from Monday’s meeting, but councilman Randall Jones presented a letter from Jordan explaining the incident. Jordan’s letter made no reference as to what, if anything, he planned to do regarding Braswell’s complaint.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Jordan said the issue had “been addressed” and was “being handled.” He declined to elaborate on the issue further, however.
“If I feel like an officer needs training about how to deal with a situation, then I’ll send them to training,” Jordan said. “If something comes up, I’ll address it. I won’t condone anybody bullying anybody.”
Sgt. Lewis was present at Monday’s meeting and did speak, giving his version of the night’s events.
Mayor Baker said later the council would continue to look into the matter.
Councilwoman Edie Pundt said she would like to see someone investigate the recent complaints further and report those findings to the council as a whole.
“I don’t know if these are isolated instances or legitimate complaints,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
Councilman Randall Jones, who serves as chairman of the city’s public safety committee, said he believed it might be necessary to bring in an outside party to investigate the complaints, given that they involve more than one officer. Jones said he would like to see the matter investigated further, but admitted he did not know the correct next step in the process.
For her part, Braswell said she was disappointed in the way the incident has been handled by all parties involved.
“I would like to see them (the council) hold WAPD responsible and accountable for their actions. They need to do the jobs they were elected for. When a problem arises, they need to deal with that problem and not just push it under the rug,” she said.
At the November meeting, a couple also complained about the police department; however, that portion of the meeting was illegally closed to the public. Neither the mayor nor council has ever offered any reasoning behind closing the meeting other than to claim it was to discuss personnel matters.
According to David E. Hudson, legal council for the Georgia Press Association, meetings cannot be closed if evidence is being presented to council members.
Council members John Maye, Albert Samples and newly elected Beth Moore did not return phone call requests for interviews.
Monday’s meeting was the first for Moore, who replaced Izell Mack after November’s election.
The council was prepared to present Mack, who was absent from the meeting, with a plaque honoring him for his 20 years of service as an elected official for the city.
Pundt was elected Mayor Pro-Tem by the council by a majority vote by herself, Moore and Jones. Samples voted for Jones and Maye voted for himself for the position.