The Will County State's Attorney's Office is partnering with Joliet Township High School District 204 to create a new curriculum aimed at stopping teens from using heroin, which killed 34 people in Will County this year.
"Knowledge is power and by educating our students about the dangers of heroin, we are empowering them to make smart health choices," said Will County Executive Larry Walsh, speaking at a press conference about the new initiative Wednesday.
"This is an unbelievably dangerous drug; as we said in our PSA, you only choose once and then you are addicted."
Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow echoed Walsh's sentiment.
"It's absolutely critical that you never put this demon in your body," Glasgow said.
Students must develop the self-esteem to say no, he said.
"You are the future of this country," he said. "We want to make sure you make it to adulthood."
Students in Joliet Central High School health classes were among the first to see the new curriculum, which was developed with the assistance of the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, based in Hinsdale.
Dianne McDonald, the school's curriculum director, explained different pieces of the curriculum, which included a virtual fictional town with which the students can interact.
The virtual town demonstration featured two story lines, one in which a male teen is distraught when his girlfriend goes out with her ex-boyfriend.
Students' opinions were mixed.
Lillith Cleary, a Central junior, said she thought the approach was too simplistic and didn't do a good job of capturing some of the issues teens face today, such as abusive family members, sexual assault and bullying.
"I feel like the virtual town thing is unecessary," Cleary said. "I feel like when they try to get a sense of a teenager, they did not do a very good job.
"Adults don't really realize we have a lot more deeper problems. It's hard to be a teenager."
Senior Eric Lindstrom agreed that bullying is much more pervasive than adults realize, but unlike Cleary, he said he'd be interested in interacting with the virtual world.
"I want to find out what happens next," he said.
District 204 school board President Jeff Pierson told those in attendance that board members, administration and educators agree on the approach to counter the heroin problem.
"We believe in drug prevention through education," he said.
The district already has an anti-drug curriculum, but with the growing prevelance of heroin in Will County, they sought out a partnership to develop something to specifically dealing with that. The Robert Crown Center agreed to launch the curriculum.
The center's director Kathleen Burke explained the center's approach.
"Heroin is a nasty drug and it's really important that you understand it," she said. "Heroin is a drug that is so dangerous that we've changed the way we're teaching about it."