Third-graders in the Alta school district graduated from the six-week BABES program last week, and teachers and volunteers hope the students will walk away with knowledge about life skills such as healthy decision-making in addition to their certificates of completion.
Each student in Jeannie Henningsen's and Deb Langner's classes went through the program, which is designed to provide information about self-esteem, empowerment and choosing to avoid drugs and alcohol.
Coordinated by Ginni Cook of the NWIADTU Prevention Education Department, 13 volunteers from the community met with each of the children and taught the material using BABES puppets.
Volunteers for this year were Cheryl Arnts, Barb Brugman, Pat Cone, Joan Curbow, Tracy Glienke, JoAnn Johnson, Robin Maharry, Lorinda Petersen, Lori Roney, Laura Turnquist, Eileen Turnquist, Kim Walsh and Barb Wetherell.
Cook said the impact the adults have on the children go far beyond the material they teach the students in each session.
"Studies have shown that every child needs at least three adults other than teachers that they can look up to in their communities, and this is a great way to provide that," Cook said. "Before each large-group session, each volunteer took three or four students together so they could talk about their work individually to that volunteer and explain how it helped them.
"That small-group setting really helped, because the kids were able to bond with those adults and learn what those connections feel like," Cook continued. "The kids were able to see that someone has taken time for them and is paying attention to them, and I think that sends a very positive message to them."
Eileen Turnquist, who also volunteered with the program last year, also said the small groups were very beneficial.
"With the small groups you make sure all of them answer so no one is left out," Turnquist said. "It's good for them to answer and give their opinions, and it also allows us as volunteers to interact with the kids and hear what they have to say."
In each session, the students viewed plays featuring the BABES puppets, who present a variety of situations which deal with drugs, alcohol, tobacco and violence at school and home.
The puppets then use healthy decision-making and empowerment skills to say no to those wanting them to use drugs and alcohol, get help if there is violence in the home and learn to cope with negative peer pressure in a multitude of situations.
Cook said those lessons of empowerment help make the program, which is also used in the Storm Lake St. Mary's, Newell-Fonda, Sioux Center, Albert City-Truesdale and Aurelia school systems, a success for students and teachers.
"The biggest part is probably the empowerment that they're learning and that they can stand up to people if they feel the other person is trying to get them to make a wrong choice," Cook said. "They're learning to make healthy choices and are learning it's okay to say no.
"This is helping them realize that they're in charge of their life and they have the power to make healthy choices."
Cook, who helps with training the volunteers each year, said the adults are able to learn just as much from the students as the students learn from them.
"It's really a win-win situation for everyone," Cook said. "The students are able to look up to the adults and see how good decision-making can help make their lives better, and the adults get to see what the kids are thinking and how they can help the students learn.
"It's been a great program because of that interaction and learning that takes place from both sides," Cook continued. "I'm really glad we've been able to offer this and affect these kids' lives in a positive way."