November 15, 2006 | By: Laura Skillman

Stress. Peer pressure. Drugs. These are pitfalls children must navigate as they move through life. In Paducah, a group of teens are helping younger students develop skills to successfully navigate through these perils thanks to “Health Rocks!” 

The 10-week program is administered by the McCracken County 4-H program and funded by a grant from Mississippi State University. Danielle Rudolph, 4-H youth development agent for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in McCracken County, and several teens from Paducah Tilghman High School attended a national training on the “Health Rocks!” program this summer.

The younger students are taught communication, empathy, teamwork, disease prevention, self-responsibility, critical thinking, planning, organizing, problem solving, stress management, concern for others, healthy lifestyle choices and self-esteem, Rudolph said. It also is advantageous for the teens.

“The teens gain leadership skills and also serve as mentors while learning the information. It gives them a chance to be in charge of a program, to plan and to contact local leaders as they line up speakers,” she said.

Kentucky statistics show a high number of children are affected by drugs. That’s why Rudolph said she wants to expand the program in the coming years.

“I want it in every elementary school and middle school in the city,” Rudolph said. “And I want to get my co-workers onboard so we can also offer it in the county.”

Ronald Pullen is the volunteer adult mentor for the program at Cooper Whiteside Elementary School. The program is also offered at Paducah Middle School. 

“I think this is a great program for a number of reasons,” he said. ”The teen involvement is a great opportunity for them to come out and to reach back to the community and they get some experience with working with these younger students. The younger students respond because they are closer to their age. They are always asking when the teens are coming.”

Olivia Burr, guidance counselor and social worker at Cooper Whiteside Elementary, was the co-author of the grant proposal. 

Burr said the program provides much of the same information that they used to receive through programs funded by a juvenile justice grant that they did not receive this year.

“We are trying to replace those programs and this was an ideal program for our students because they live in a high risk environment,” she said. “I think being with the older students also gives them a model of what they can be. By placing them with students that are already in the high school, already successful, it gives them a model of success.”

Almost all children are at risk if they do not have enough support, Burr noted. She uses 4-H as well as other programs in the community to help provide that support.

Thirteen teens work in teams to teach the program. Brent Buchanan, Tyler Carner and Ali Watson made up the team teaching a recent stress management session. 

Buchanan said he likes kids and the program is positive.

“I’m not sure that I’d ever want to get into education, but it gave me some pretty practical skills,” he said. “We’ve had some real positive feedback from the kids. It makes you feel good when you are doing something for them.”

Watson said she really likes the idea behind the program – teaching about why drugs and alcohol are bad and why they should avoid them.

“I really didn’t know they would know as much as they do and how a lot of them are affected by it,” she said.

Carner, whose mother is a teacher, said he never realized what she experienced until participating in the program.

“When they start to learn, it makes you feel good that you actually taught them something and they got something out of it,” he said.


Danielle Rudolph, 270-554-9520