As a health education teacher, Randy Clark thought he was pretty well versed in drug and alcohol prevention education.
Even so, the North Carroll High School teacher and varsity football coach was among some 70 county teachers who attended Carroll Community College's Institute for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Education during the summer.
"I thought it would be very redundant to things I already know," Clark said. "But I picked up a lot of useful information to help me in my classes."
The one-week seminar provided Clark and other teachers with a wealth of information on drug prevention, intervention and recovery techniques, gleaned from nearly two dozen regional and national experts in alcohol and drug abuse.
Teachers also learned how to recognize learning, behavioral, physical and sociological symptoms that provide clues to drug or alcohol abuse among students.
Some of the warning signs of substance abuse that may show up in the classroom, for example, include the loss of ability to concentrate, loss of motivation and a decrease in class participation.
Teachers also learned how to talk to students about substance abuse problems.
"(Teachers) learned about confidentiality and how to operate in that capacity as a teacher," said Deborah Wright, the institute coordinator who just published a book, "Dare to Confront," described as a guide to confronting relatives in a loving way about drug and alcohol abuse.
"Teachers learned how to talk to students with problems and to send them for help. Teachers can serve as a source of referral," Wright added.
Two teachers from each public school attended the institute, and now these teachers are presenting programs to their school faculties. They also are coordinating programs to present to parent-teacher organizations.
In response to the program, financed by a grant from United Way of Central Maryland, the County Commissioners have proclaimed October as Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Month.
"I don't think the average person has a real good idea of the extent of the drug problem," said Clark, of Westminster.
One of the most startling facts Taneytown Elementary first-grade teacher Sheri Maring learned was that many children begin using drugs at age 11.
"That's an awfully young age," said Maring, of Mount Airy. "Kids are with us at that time."
For elementary teachers, the program focused on a variety of early intervention techniques aimed at building self-esteem and teaching children better coping and decision-making skills.
"You have to realize there are things you can do even with first-graders -- to help them make better decisions concerning drugs when they get older," Maring said. "It's never too young to start."
One of the most important things Celeste Zerner, a Taneytown Elementary School kindergarten teacher, learned was when to recognize through children that there are drug or alcohol abuse problems at home.
"It gave me information on how to help families with their troubles and how to help them get out of it," said the Silver Run resident.
Equally important, she said, was learning techniques to help children cope with the family problems.
"We can help children work through it," she said. "We can let them know that we are there, and that we are consistent. We can help these kids just by helping them feel better about themselves."