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Back to Archives | Back to May 2005 Contents 

Community Programs - Grounded: A Play to Teach Children Choices

William Sullivan, Chief of Police, Oakdale, Minnesota

he play revolves around a young girl, Aimy Fairfax, and her very big dilemma. Aimy is the new kid in town whose new friends want her to experiment with cigarettes and alcohol. During the play, Aimy expresses states of confusion and anxiety as she carefully weighs every aspect of her decision. As Aimy struggles with her dilemma, she stumbles across the Find Out Phaser, a talking statue in her attic. In the end, Aimy realizes that using cigarettes and alcohol would seriously hinder the quality of her life. The students watch carefully and intently as Aimy acts out all the possible scenarios.

Grounded was developed with a dual purpose of providing up-to-date information to the students about drug resistance and violence while simultaneously equipping the students with the necessary tools to overcome the pressure to use tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Grounded is a two-year program focusing on elementary school students with an emphasis in developing the skills required to resist peer and other social pressures to use tobacco, alcohol, and or illegal drugs. The program is “designed to keep the participant grounded in reality” with a keen awareness of the negative consequences associated with tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drug use.

The Oakdale Police Department worked with a local theater group to design a play tailored to students that addressed the issues of drug use in a problem-solving format. Oakdale officers gathered information from principals, teachers, parents, and community and council members to facilitate the ever-changing curriculum and the play Grounded to present up-to-date information to the students. Every aspect is explored in an interactive setting that allows the students to participate, learn, and incorporate various skills into their everyday lives.

The information the students are absorbing through the play, the class material, the at-home activities, and the interactive role playing has stimulated discussion involving the students, the teachers, and the parents and providing concrete evidence that the message, goal, and information Grounded presents, in an innovative fashion, is making an impact on the students and families in and outside of the classroom.

During the first year, students in grades 3, 4, and 5 see the play Grounded and receive three follow-up visits to their classroom by the police officers and actors in the play. At the conclusion of the play, officers and actors return to the various classrooms and engage in question-and-answer periods. Two follow-up classes on different days result in a discussion concerning the consequences of using drugs and refining decision--making skills, with a final class dealing with refusal skills and how to say No.

Family involvement and reinforcement are an integral part of the program. Families of all participants receive a newsletter for every class and additional activities intended to be conducted with the children. Finally, the police department and participating elementary school sponsor a parent night. Parents are given the opportunity to ask police officers questions as well as receive information regarding signs of drug use, types of drugs, drug recognition, and paraphernalia. Simultaneously, the children, in a different room, are rehearsing role-playing with local theater actors. The children return at the end of the evening and demonstrate the role-plays they had been practicing.

During the second year of Grounded, students in grades 4 and 5 receive three additional classes with the police officers and actors. The first class is a short play performed in each participating classroom. The play is a review of concepts covered during the previous year. Two additional follow-up classes are conducted on separate days and address violence prevention and gang involvement and prevention.

As in the first year, families received a newsletter relevant to the issues addressed in the class and activities that could be completed with the Grounded students. The two-year program concludes with a celebration and an antidrug public service announcement presented by each class. Grounded has been presented to 3,600 students in grades 3, 4, and 5 during the past three school years.

In an ongoing effort to provide continuity in terms of not only the message but the messenger as well, the department has made a commitment to use the same Grounded officers at each elementary school for the first three years of this program.

A meeting is held at a designated school at the conclusion of every year. The yearly meeting provides the principals, teachers, parents, council members, and community members the opportunity to provide positive and negative feedback to the department. Each school principal brings the evaluations received from the teachers to the meeting. The evaluations are the main reporting tool used to drive revision discussions.

Grounded is an innovative approach to teaching drug resistance and education along with violence prevention to the youth of our community. Drugs and violence are everyday occurrences in society. Youth are inundated with images of drug use, violence and gang participation in movies, television programs, commercials, magazines and also the Internet. The goal of Grounded is to equip students with the tools necessary to make the proper decision when faced with these issues. Students cannot be sheltered from these images and peer pressure, but the police can help develop the students’ ability to say No when faced with these decisions.

Grounded is intended to instill a powerful and positive image, through the presentation of the play and the follow-up role-playing demonstration. Each student is left with a little more experience and knowledge to help them make the ultimate life-affirming decision, whether to take the puff or snort, share the needle, throw the first punch, or just walk away. This program is adaptable to the needs of virtually any community.

For more information, write to William Sullivan, chief of police, or Shannon Goeken, Grounded director, Oakdale Police Department, 1584 Hadley Avenue North, Oakdale, MN 55128; call them at 651-730-2760; or send an e-mail message to Shannon at


From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 5, May 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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