By Ahmad Allaw, Courier & Press, Sept. 29, 2015 –

You walk into what seems like an auditorium with a flood of seats to your front, back, right and left. Eventually, you take a seat among a sea of others. There are perhaps 200 students, maybe more.

It’s nothing like you have ever seen. It is neither like high school nor what came before. Some students will quickly become accustomed to these large lecture courses, succeeding without fail. Others, though, will feel like a drop of water among what seems to be an endless stretch of ocean.

The professor speaks and leaves. There is no time to ask questions. If you stumble, the teacher is not there to pick you up. If you fall behind, the run does not stop; instead, the marathon continues. One bad grade can quickly become two, and two can quickly become even more.

In college, many will experience their first real academic struggles, and the struggle hurts. It hurts because you aren’t necessarily lacking in effort. It hurts because you see others, with less time invested, succeeding when you are not.

You may not know what to do. You may feel defeated and think about giving up. You may question yourself, doubting your own value and intellect.

For college students who experience such issues, the biggest mistake is thinking you are alone and believing you cannot or should not ask for help.

Perhaps all I have written thus far falls on deaf ears. However, if there is one thing I could say, one piece of invaluable advice I cannot stress more, it would be to never shy away from asking for help.

The help is there. For any troubles you could almost certainly talk to your resident adviser or counselor. Every university also has tutoring services. The professors that leave immediately after lecture have office hours. Most are friendlier than they might seem during lecture, and they also want to see you succeed. If the professor is not there, a teacher’s assistant almost certainly will be there.

Remember, help is always there, but you must have the courage to use it.

And, as a reminder, always have perspective. You may tend to get caught up in your present, forgetting both what came before and what may still be to come. You are in college because of your own accomplishments. You are in college because someone saw what you had done, what you were and what you could be. Someone was willing to take a chance on you.

So never feel like you don’t belong that college isn’t for you or that you are somehow less worthy than anyone else. And remember, you are more — much more — than your grades. Don’t let your grade-point average define who you are.

And so, as a college student, things won’t necessarily be easy. You will likely struggle at times, whether in academia or otherwise. But, if you seek out help, if you use the resources the university provides, you will have a much easier time than if you keep things to yourself.

By Alissa Eastham, Courier & Press, September 22, 2015 –

Racing home after a busy day at work, you may have noticed the runner turning down the street behind you. With the Evansville Half Marathon a little over a month away, many have been out in full force training to run 13.1 miles in October.

I’ve often heard it said that running a race of that distance is “mind over matter.” I’m discovering firsthand how true that can be as I incorporate mindfulness techniques into my increasingly longer runs.

Of course, you don’t have to be a runner to apply mindfulness to your life. Whether you are training for a half marathon or just trying to race through your day, parents and kids alike can benefit from incorporating mindfulness into their daily routines. Meditation and focus on breathing may be what many regard as mindfulness, but that is only one piece. Ultimately, mindfulness is being intentionally present in the moment. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes mindfulness as a state of awareness without judgment — training your attention to develop calmness and clarity.

ABC News recently reported that a study from UCLA found that behavior and test scores improved in second- and third-graders who practiced mindfulness skills twice a week for 30 minutes. Other studies have found greater control of emotions and lower suspension, expulsion, and dropout rates for students practicing mindfulness techniques. The APA also reports a greater sense of control, better memory, and less stress and anxiety for those practicing on a regular basis.

Just as a runner has to build strength and stamina to prepare her muscles for race day, adults and kids alike must practice mindfulness a little each day to reap benefits in moments most needed (i.e. an adult becoming stressed at work, a student experiencing anxiety at school, or a parent and teen getting frustrated with one another at home).

Mindfulness can be practiced virtually anywhere; even taking a moment at a red light to clear your mind can be a simple way to practice.

Meditation and focus on breathing is only one piece of mindfulness, but it’s a great place to start. First, get comfortable. You don’t have to sit in lotus pose on the floor with your legs crossed and palms up; you can sit on the couch or lay in bed.

Next, focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose. Notice your belly expand, filling with air, as you breathe in. Imagine your breath flowing up and out as you exhale. You may notice the difference in temperature on the tip of your nose as you breathe in and out. Notice any other sensations in your body. When you’re finished, you should feel more relaxed and peaceful.

Some parents choose to practice mindfulness for a few moments in the morning to have a calm start to the day. It can be practiced at any time — folding laundry, making dinner, even washing dishes. The trick is to keep your mind focused. If your mind wanders, acknowledge that you are no longer focused and redirect your thoughts back to the task at hand.

Once you have had some practice, teach your children how to be mindful and practice with them. Mindfulness Coach and Insight Timer are two apps that have an assortment of guided activities to help adults get started or improve their practice. Smiling Mind is an app that teaches children as young as 7 how to practice mindfulness. All of these are available at no cost.

Many other books, apps, and websites are available. Taking the time to be mindful in the midst of a busy life can help you catch your breath, whether you are training for a race or just racing through your day.


By Margery Gianopoulos, Courier & Press, Sept. 22, 2015 –

In 1996, the state of California became the first in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana. Since then, 22 other states have joined California, including Michigan and Illinois. Ohio is considering several marijuana-related initiatives for voters next fall, and if any of them pass, Indiana would be surrounded on three sides by states with some form of legal marijuana use.

The legalization of marijuana is changing the landscape across the country. While surveys indicate that substance use among youths has dropped, the data also shows that more youths perceive marijuana to be less risky than in years past. In other words, a growing number of teens think the occasional use of marijuana is no big deal, and it won’t hurt them. Prevention researchers say as the perception of risk drops, substance use typically increases.

Indiana University’s School of Public Health measures risk factors through the annual Indiana Youth Survey. Most states have this same type of survey. The Indiana Youth Survey measures 30-day substance use, age of first use, perception of peer approval and parental approval, along with risk factors which may increase problem youth behaviors such as substance use, school dropout, violence, pregnancy and behavior health.

The behaviors and attitudes of Warrick County’s sixth- through 12th-grade students mirror the national data. From 2013 to 2014, the number of sixth -raders reporting low perception of risk for marijuana more than tripled.

Clearly, the legalization of marijuana is impacting thinking, and it could soon impact behavior among our youths.

The questions surrounding the issue include: Is medical marijuana a good thing, what research is being done, and what about recreational use? Can pot be addictive? What could be the impact on our children and communities, and how do we separate the truth from the myths?

Warrick County Communities That Care Coalition and Youth First, Inc. held a town hall to a discuss these questions and more during a town hall forum on Sept. 8th.

Former WIKY News Director Randy Wheeler moderated the discussion with a panel that included Dr. Daniel Rusyniak, medical director of the Indiana Poison Center and professor of emergency medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine; Marlin Weisheit, Warrick County commissioner and retired Chandler police chief; Judge Keith Meier, Warrick County Superior Court and Drug Court, retired; Brett Kruse, Warrick County sheriff; Michael Perry, Warrick County prosecutor; Tad Powless, director of special education, Warrick County School Corp.; Davi Stein-Kiley, Youth First director of social work; Kathy Baker, Youth First school social worker, Castle High School; Althea Ingram, Castle High School parent; Kaylynne Glass, Castle High School junior; Alex Hardgrave, Castle High School sophomore.

By Dena Embrey, Courier & Press, Sept. 1, 2015 – Working as a Youth First Social Worker in an elementary school, I frequently talk to girls who are having friendship problems.

They often report being teased, criticized, excluded or the victim of gossip and rumors. I hear about how they struggle to be included, and they are often confused by the hot and cold treatment they receive from friends.

During one recent conversation with a sixth grader, she said she wished things were easy again like in first grade when no one cared about who was popular.

Author Rosalind Wiseman addresses the new realities of today’s girl world in her book “Queen Bees & Wannabes.” She supports the idea that bullying behaviors typically associated with adolescent girls are occurring at younger ages.

“Queen Bees & Wannabes” helps break down the challenges young girls encounter as they deal with cliques, teasing, gossip and rumors. Wiseman also educates parents and offers advice on how to help girls navigate their social world. Here are a few of Wiseman’s recommendations:

Seek out ways to strengthen your daughter’s self-esteem. Get her involved in activities she enjoys and expose her to different social groups. Teach her what it means to be a true friend. Don’t expect her to like everyone, but do expect her to respect everyone.

Establish yourself as a source of support. Don’t pass judgment or dismiss your daughter’s experiences by telling her, “Just ignore it,” or “You’re better off without them.” Instead, listen respectfully, thank her for telling you, and help her to identify appropriate ways of confronting the problem. Encourage her to be assertive and respectful.

Practice what you preach. One of the best ways to teach your daughter about positive social behavior is through role modeling. Ask yourself if you are engaging in the same behaviors you are trying to teach your daughter. If your answer is no, own up to it and use your mistakes as a teachable moment.

Limit and monitor her use of technology. One of the biggest impacts on today’s girl world is the access children have to technology like cellphones and the Internet. When used unethically, these can be powerful tools in bullying or harassing others. Parents who allow their children access to these tools are also responsible for teaching the safe and ethical way to use them. Parents must also go one step further and monitor use by having access to their child’s password and taking advantage of the controls offered by cellphone/Internet providers.

Remember that parenting is not a popularity contest. You are not meant to be your daughter’s best friend. Setting limits, holding her accountable and teaching her respect for herself and others are all part of your job as a parent. Her anger with you will only be temporary.

As young girls move toward adolescence, it is normal to rely less on parents and more on friends. The relationships a girl has with her friends play a major role in developing her self-image and future patterns of behavior. Despite this, parents should not underestimate the significant role they play in offering guidance and helping develop healthy relationship patterns.