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The Pact: Teen Brains & Drug Prevention

This is a sponsored post in partnership with WeAre Teachers. All opinions are my own.

What's the best way to talk to your children about drug prevention and education? I can draw from my own experiences and from parenting my children, but I also have the added benefit of having worked in schools for over 2 decades. Will every single thing work? No, it won't. Is it still important to have the conversations? Absolutely

One of the things that I know doesn't work is what I was exposed to in school as a student. We had local police and law enforcement in our buildings for the program called D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) which, as we know now, was disastrous. It was a failed policy that was federally funded and schools were mandated to use it even while our government knew it provided the opposite intended effect. I recall learning more about drugs and how to do them from our D.A.R.E. program.

Like abstinence programs, the idea of just saying 'no' didn't work with school children.


I was asked to take a look at The Pact and I promise you that I'm not here to push it on parents or schools and this isn't an endorsement: you're smart enough to make your own decisions about how best to talk to your child about drugs. This isn't even really a review. I'm just offering my opinion and free resources that are available online after being introduced to The Pact.

The Pact's framework is simple: Connect, Pledge, Confirm, Reward. 

First, what I like about The Pact is that they are research-based which was a major downfall of D.A.R.E. because when researchers were informed that it didn't work we continued using them to our detriment. The Pact offers innovative resources for schools to tackle drug use by students through drug prevention and education.

They do something that was sorely missing from earlier drug prevention programs: they encourage schools to partner with parents for involvement and support. 

If I've learned anything in all my years as an educator it's that we're stronger as a system when we involve parents in any experience we provide in schools.


One of the things The Pact’s research revealed was that schools AND parents needed to address the subject of drug use. It's best when that prevention happens early, often, and continually. I know bringing up something this delicate can be daunting and there's no perfect age to start because, developmentally, children vary in terms of what they're ready for at different ages. My oldest daughter was mature and ahead of her peers in discussing these things. My youngest son, though, was behind and wouldn't have been ready at the same age she was for some things.

When my son was about 10 we were running errands and saw a man behaving erratically and Morgan, being the bleeding heart he is, wanted to ask him if he was okay. From my perspective, he was high on something and potentially dangerous. He was carrying a large bag with him and we didn't have any idea what was inside. My son argued with me throughout our shopping trip about how mean and uncaring I was but I urged him to listen to my experience because I figured the man was on drugs. 

"What are drugs?" he asked. 

I was kind of floored that he and I hadn't discussed that yet because his siblings knew by that age. 

My point is that once he was ready and he could grasp mature, adult topics I knew it was time to keep talking about it and looking for teachable moments.


That leads me back to The Pact. The second thing I like about it was how open they were to discussing healthy risk taking for teenagers. Telling my kids to refuse drugs wasn't realistic especially knowing what I do about the teenage brain. 


My own kids, as teens, would do the dumbest things and sometimes couldn't tell me why. We all did. Every teen brain works like this. They're wired for risky behavior and there's nothing wrong with it so long as they have proper guidance, boundaries, and consequences. Between the ages of 13-18 teen brains prompt kids to try new things and take risks they previously would have seen as dangerous. The healthiest approach to raising teens (so you don't take on some animalistic behavior and want to eat your young) is allowing them the space to make minor mistakes from risks that won't have long term effects. I'm the kind of mom who let them screw up but there are healthy ways to allow that.

I'm also the kind of mom who talked openly about all things risqué like sex and drugs. 

"I know you'll want to try some things, but here are the consequences," I'd tell them. Repeatedly. Because TEENS. 

It's not surprise, then, that I appreciated The Pact’s video The Teen Brain which provides scientific insight to this need their brains have for wanting to be a little bit dangerous. Schools could use this when discussing risk-taking they engage in and not to do it from a scare tactic perspective. It's just realistic. Like, hey, this could potentially happen. I was honest with my teenagers about what drugs I tried at their age and what it was like to find my boundaries. Personally, I don't enjoy being out of control and would consider myself a teetotaler when it comes to drinking even as an adult. It shocked them that I was honest about it, but I can't recommend enough being transparent with your teenagers. They know we were kids once.

A fan of infographics, I did appreciate the resources they provided (except for the crossword because I don't see a point in using that). 

My best piece of advice both as a parent and educator is echoed in The Pact: start the conversation. Talk to kids, listen to kids, and provide support when they decide to try risky gateway drugs (and behaviors) so they know what it could lead to if unchecked.



Reporting on the Racism at Work

I spent a few hours with a reporter yesterday and I hadn’t planned on spending that much time but that’s just the way it worked out. We had been meaning to get together to discuss several things for stories she’s working on, both personal and professional, though the lines on that blurred because of the things that interest her personally and manage to cross over into the professional.


For many years, as I’ve written online extensively, a common thread was writing about my own experiences with racism at work. None of it is spectacular or surprising except that what I’ve witnessed is neither spectacular nor surprising. It’s standard by any measure if you know how to take the temperature of a person on the receiving end of the micro- and macroaggressions that come with being in a minority where you work.

“I have too many examples,” I said at one point while we talked prior to turning on the tape recorder.

She stumped me, though, and it stayed with me for the rest of the day. I should mention here that I don’t think I did my job perfectly whatever that definition may be. Like many people I felt inadequate while dealing with students. There’s no rule book that tells you that you’re doing it right 100% of the time. That’s impossible. A lot of the job has to do with those gut-checks where you hope you’re doing or saying the right thing to a parent asking you for advice or a student who is seeking counsel on how to handle their complicated relationships with friends. Working with teens meant that I was dealing with an as-yet-undeveloped brain and that’s not a put down. It’s fact.

“I have too many examples of my own failures,” I thought. I didn’t give voice to that, though.

She stumped me and she warned me that she would. Well, not in those words, but in saying that she was going to ask me hard questions. That’s what a good reporter does among many other things. But they ask you to reflect, find the errors without being told they’re errors, and they help you work through the narrative without telling it for you.

I have a lot of respect for good reporters and excellent reporting. Why wouldn’t I when I’ve spent the better part of the last decade reminding myself and anyone who would listen to watch the narrative?

She asked me, after leaving a district I started working for in 1994, what they would say bad about me. She wondered what terrible things they could report about me as an educator and whether or not I had rebuttals to them. When she puts together the sound bites for the story I’m sure she’ll cut my dead air at that part but I spent a great deal of time in thinking mode.

My thinking mode is to look up or bite my lip or inhale deeply. It’s to pause and stare off into space where I’m most comfortable. It’s the part of me that is an ambivert who enjoys being “on” camera or “on” stage but who needs the quiet time to reflect.

During the interview she asked me that question twice in different stories we discussed and I mentioned it to my husband and children when they asked about my day.

“She wanted to know what terrible things my former bosses would come back with about me,” I said to my husband. “I must have sounded so arrogant because I couldn’t come up with one. I have no idea what they’d say.”

He reminded me of some of the times I’d come home from the job incredulous that someone at work would engage in institutional gaslighting or outright racism. The times when my secretary told me my hair was “more professional” when it was straightened and aligned with white ideals. The time when I mentioned to a publication that we don’t honor or nominate our Black students for enough awards when they clearly made up for those numbers in the general population. The time when teachers were texting and called me a bitch for that very publication while they were in class and students witnessed it because it was on their computers that were connected to the monitor. That was on full display for kids. Most of the time it was covert or hidden in coded language.

There was the time when I took a teacher to task for giving me a list of parents she wanted to meet with for parent/teacher conferences and she made an “academic” list and a “behavior” list. When I mentioned that her “behavior” list was full of Black students that were mostly boys she balked. “There are some white kids on that list, too!”

Again. I have too many examples.

Reporters, the good investigative ones, have a way of picking a scab. That’s what happened yesterday and I bled all over the table we were sitting at and couldn’t stop the bleeding until this morning when, after my thinking mode, I realized why it’ll be hard for them to come up with anything.

None of my evaluations are bad. There are no letters in my file. I wasn’t disciplined for anything.

That’s how this works, this covert racism. It protects itself by working in cliques and behind closed, inaccessible doors. People will discuss what it is they can “do” with you and your big mouth that keeps on tattling on systemic racism and they want that response to be professional or legal and when they can’t come up with that you’ll be discussed in hushed tones and with visible eyerolls when you walk into a room and, if you really don’t get in line with status quo, job relocation.

I have too many examples.

This is cross-posted on my Medium channel


Fire Prevention Week [a review & some resources]

This is post is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association and Review and opinions are all mine.

It probably doesn't seem very sexy to discuss fire prevention.

Trust me when I say that no matter what kinds of things you're passionate about you can always find others. I didn't have to go looking for this one.

Back when my children were in elementary school they had a classmate who had a house fire. Every time, prior to this one, that I heard about someone's house burning down I would sort of shrug it off like, "Awww, that's too bad. Good thing we have insurance." It wasn't particularly compassionate of me until I stopped by where they were staying (right next door with friends) and listened to them talk about the actual things they lost. Family heirlooms. Photographs that couldn't be replicated because this was prior to digital pics. Handwritten letters from ancestors long gone. It was heartbreaking and, in that moment, I had to face my own apathy about it. It was pretty shameful and I'm not proud of it.

She had two young children, a son and a daughter, and that was also around the same time when I stopped titheing to my church and directly gave her money. (Story for another time.) We went through our clothes and since my children were growing like weeds and I wasn't the most organized mom this required some work on my part to get it together so that we could donate.

As schools are considering what to do this week for Fire Prevention Week (an important part of teaching whether or not curriculum dictates it) I have a few things that might be helpful for teachers. My husband served on the volunteer fire department for years so he's taught me a thing or two about fire safety that I wouldn't normally know. 

I was asked to review the NFPA’s Sparky resources which, I've learned, can be used by teachers during Fire Prevention Week coming up between October 9-15, 2016.

What follows are my review thoughts on the game:

The "make-believe" link on the game features a child in a wheelchair which is rather progressive of them. WELL DONE, DEVELOPERS. Also, there are diverse races represented as well. I'm not being insincere when I say this: Thank you for being inclusive on this. This makes possible a game where kids playing it are able to see themselves.

Sparky has a Firehouse app for those times when you're out with your kids and you want to keep them entertained while simultaneously teaching them how to be safe in case of a fire. YOU KNOW THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME SO MAY AS WELL USE IT WISELY. I like the app version and, after trying it out online first, was surprised at how well it translates.

Here it is available for play on the web for those times when teachers sign up for the computer lab and want to focus their student's attention on an education game. SparkySchoolhouse encourages adults to teach fire safety to save lives, something that can be a scary topic for children. However, they use appropriate language and upbeat music to soften the lessons. Educators can find more resources at the SparkySchoolhouse Digital Backpack as well. (This is chock full of lessons and more games.)


Of the options for game playing, you'll tap one of the boxes to play. I chose to play Hear That? It was like the game Concentration where you hear sounds and have to tap the buttons to play them again in order. I don't think that's the object of the game, though. The instructions also tell you that if you hear the smoke alarm you are to tap the door immediately without finishing the game.

My favorite resource is the Sparky lessons.

There are downloadable PDFs and all of them meet CCSS standards for different grade levels. As an educator, my pick for these focuses on grades 1 & 2 for children. There are, of course, different grade-level appropriate lessons. Here's a sample of one for ages 6-10 (up to 5th grade):

Sparky the Fire Dog® and his friends set out to solve a mystery in The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms, a free app that teaches kids fire-safety skills with a compelling new story, standards-aligned materials and loads of fun tappable animations.


What I liked about that is that kids get, by nature, engrossed in what they're doing and need to be able to hear sounds that signal a danger may be present. I got through about 5 levels before the smoke alarm sound went off and tapped the door immediately to get outside.

The game rewarded me by congratulating me for going outside and it showed a meeting place, something else I taught my young children when they were small. "If we ever have a fire and we're apart, we'll meet up by the basketball hoop in front of the house. If you come out the back doors then make your way to the hoop so we can know you're safe."

My overall opinion is that this game is really great for very young children and I stand by my earlier claim that kids will be playing games on mobile devices anyway so they might as well learn safety tips while doing it.

Fire Prevention Week is a necessary part of what schools are doing to make sure their students are safe. Many school districts are required, by law, to run fire drills several times a year so that students can be safe in school buildings. Why not extend this learning at home with your young children in a fun way, too?


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