The Elementary School Where Students Cope With Parents’ Addiction

“About half of the student body at one Ohio elementary school has witnessed drug use at home. Educators spend time every day teaching the children how to cope.” D. Levin, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Students at Minford are encouraged to pick a color that represents an emotion Credi A. Schukar for The NYT

Excerpt: Inside the Elementary School Where Drug Addiction Sets the Curriculum — By Dan Levin, The New York Times

“Inside an elementary school classroom decorated with colorful floor mats, art supplies and building blocks, a little boy named Riley talked quietly with a teacher about how he had watched his mother take ‘knockout pills’ and had seen his father shoot up ‘a thousand times.’

Riley, who is 9 years old, described how he had often been left alone to care for his baby brother while his parents were somewhere else getting high. Beginning when he was about 5, he would heat up meals of fries, chicken nuggets and spaghetti rings in the microwave for himself and his brother, he said. ‘That was all I knew how to make,’ Riley said.

Riley — who is in foster care and who officials asked not be fully identified because of his age — is among hundreds of students enrolled in the local school district who have witnessed drug use at home.  Like many of his classmates at Minford Elementary School, Riley struggles with behavioral and psychological problems that make it difficult to focus, school officials said, let alone absorb lessons.

The school offers clothing, including shoes, to its students. Credit A. Schukar for The NYT

‘If you’re worried about your parents getting arrested last night, you can’t retain information,’ said Kendra Rase Cram, a teacher at Minford Elementary who was hired this past academic year to teach students how to cope with trauma.  Over the past nine months, she led several classes a day, and met every week in one-on-one sessions with up to 20 students who have experienced significant trauma.

Indeed, the classroom is becoming the battleground in the war against drug addiction where the next generation will be saved or lost in Ohio, which in 2017 had the second highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country… Minford Elementary is not like typical schools. At this small campus in rural southern Ohio, there is a dedicated sensory room stocked with weighted blankets, chewable toys and exercise balls. Children who were born dependent on drugs, as well as others with special needs, can take time to jump on a trampoline or calm down in a play tunnel, sometimes several times each day…In this county, long considered ground zero in Ohio’s opioid epidemic, nearly 9.7 million pills were prescribed in 2010 — enough to give 123 to each resident, the highest rate in the state, according to official statistics. Over the years, as opioid prescriptions have fallen, many drug users have moved on to heroin and fentanyl.

In Scioto County, nearly 9.7 million pills were prescribed in 2010 —Credit A. Schukar for The NYT

In Minford, the town’s school district is in many ways on the front lines of the crisis, the effects of which began appearing in classrooms about a decade ago, said Marin Applegate, a psychologist for the Minford school district. 

‘My preschool teachers just started screaming, ‘We have these kids, their behavior is off the wall and none of the traditional measures are working,’ said Ms. Applegate, who at the time worked with the state’s Department of Education. As drug users shifted from painkillers to heroin, and then to fentanyl, the county’s schools struggled to handle the fallout from parental addiction and abject poverty… Students at Minford Elementary have endured a range of abuse and neglect, county and school officials said. Some children have worn the same clothes for several consecutive days, and some have arrived on campus covered in bedbug bites. Parents have shown up after school high on heroin, school officials said, or have forgotten to pick up their children at all. In play-therapy sessions, some young students have drawn pictures of people cooking meth.


ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Riley told a teacher how he had watched his mother take ‘knockout pills‘.
  2. He had seen his father ‘shoot up‘ a thousand times.
  3. Riley who is 9 years old is in foster care.
  4. Kendra teaches children how to cope with trauma.
  5. Minford Elementary has  a drug prevention curriculum.
  6. There are exercises to teach students how to cope with the consequences of an opioid epidemic.
  7. Four kindergartners lost parents to fatal overdoses.
  8. There is a sensory room stocked with weighted blankets, and exercise balls.
  9. Children can also jump on a trampoline to calm down.
  10. The roads leading to Minford, in Scioto County, wind past picturesque horse farms.

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Riley has/have fallen/fell in love on/with reading, and especially loves/love the/a Harry Potter books. He say/said he can relate to/at the boy wizard who have/had a tough childhood. ‘We’re/Were similar,’ he said. ‘It made myself/me happy that Harry knows/know how it feels.’

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. The elementary school is located in New York City.
  2. Riley, is 9 years old and described how he had to care for his baby brother.
  3. According to the article Riley lives on his own.
  4. Last academic year, four kindergartners won prizes for spelling.
  5. Minford Elementary has a sensory room stocked with weighted blankets, chewable toys.
  6. In 2017  Boston had the second highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country.
  7. Kendra Rase Cram is  a teacher at Minford Elementary.
  8. Mike DeWine is another teacher at the school.
  9. At the school, children can take time to jump on a trampoline or calm down in a play tunnel.
  10. As a way to help the children express their feelings, each child picks a color that symbolizes an emotion.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve seen your parents getting high? What was your reaction?
  2. Have you ever been in a situation where you were tempted to take drugs?
  3. Why do you think parents get high in the first place? (e.g., for recreation, stress etc.)
  4. In your opinion, should parents who are addicted to drugs have their children taken away?  Please explain why or why not?
  5. When you have children, what will you tell them about the drugs? If you have children, do you speak to them about drug use? What do you tell them?
  6. The teachers at this school and others like it are doing a wonderful job of helping the children. Can you think of  additional ways to help both parents and children in theses situations?

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


Category: Education | Tags: ,