WHEELING & BLACKSVILLE, (WV) – Gov. Jim Justice joined local and state education leaders, along with several other officials, for a pair of events announcing Wheeling Park High School and Clay-Battelle Middle/High School as the latest additions to the student-powered WV GameChanger Opioid and Substance Misuse Prevention Education Program.
“Whether we like it or not, we all know how drugs cannibalize our state and our people. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, drugs touch all of us in some way or another – even our kids” Gov. Justice said. “We have an obligation to give our students a pathway to the best life possible. They hold the keys to our state’s future in their hands. By putting the GameChanger program in our schools, we are working to secure that future.”
The cutting-edge, evidence-based program is the first of its kind in the nation and is the result of a collaborative agreement between WV GameChanger and the world-renowned Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation. The program involves implementing opioid and substance misuse prevention education curriculum in schools across the state.
The Governor’s first stop of the day came at Wheeling Park High School, where he addressed students, teachers, administrators, and other faculty members at the school’s Performing Arts Center.
Gov. Justice was joined at the mid-morning announcement by Ohio County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kimberly Miller, Wheeling Park High School Principal Meredith Dailer, WVSSAC Executive Director and former Wheeling Park coach and administrator Bernie Dolan, and GameChanger Founder and Executive Director Joe Boczek, among others.
“We welcome Governor Justice and the GameChanger program,” Miller said. “We believe that this program will provide a huge benefit, not only for our students today, but also for many years to come. We embrace GameChanger and we look forward to bringing together people who can motivate our students to make good choices and live a healthy lifestyle.”
“The addition of GameChanger is going to allow us to take a student-led group that is dedicated to living a clean lifestyle and growing that culture here in our building,” Dialer said. “Then, we can take that culture into our middle schools and elementary schools and be game changers for those children as well. I think it’s going to be a great experience for all of our students. I’m excited to get started and I thank the Governor for joining us in this effort.”
“A few years ago, we started to see more of a rise of the opioid issue,” Dolan said. “This program will help you be able to deal with issues, give you somebody to talk to, and help you through all of the challenges that you face.”
The Governor was also joined by Bob Contraguerro, founder of Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration, whose generous donation made Wheeling Park’s participation in the program possible. Bob was joined by his wife, Jody, and his three sons, Bob Jr., Tommy, and Josh.
“We’ve spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the kids in this county, and I couldn’t think of a better initiative to put our resources behind than GameChanger,” Contraguerro said. “We need to help make sure every one of our kids are off drugs. You are our future. You will take Ohio County, the State of West Virginia, and this country to places that we’ve only dreamed of. But we can’t do that if we’re on drugs.”
Later in the day, Gov. Justice made his way to Clay-Battelle Middle/High School, where students greeted the Governor and Babydog with handmade signs of support.
The Governor went on to hold an assembly to announce Clay-Battelle’s involvement in the GameChanger program in front of students, teachers, administrators, and faculty members.
“Drugs do terrible things to so many good people. You hear sad story after sad story,” Gov. Justice said. “We are all counting on you. We expect you to stand up as great young men and women and lead by making smart choices.”
Gov. Justice was joined at the afternoon announcement by Monongalia County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eddie Campbell, Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico, Clay-Battelle Middle/High School Principal David Cottrell, Director of Safe and Supportive Schools Adam Henkins, members of the Monongalia County Board of Education including President Nancy Walker, and Boczek, among others.
“Governor, we appreciate you being here today to celebrate with us. Clay-Battelle is one of my favorite schools to visit because it’s just a tremendous community,” Campbell said. “Hearing you speak to our kids, I heard one of the things I appreciate most about your leadership: it comes from your heart. That’s the type of leader you are. It’s a tremendous honor to be here with you and for our school to participate in a program that you support so much.”
“I encourage you all to listen to the Governor’s wise words,” Talerico said. “It’s all about you, our students, being the future. We’re excited to help do everything we can to make sure that you become everything that you can be.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize Governor Justice. He is a truly genuine West Virginian who really cares about this state,” Cottrell said. “We’re proud to be a part of the GameChanger initiative and we’re proud that Governor Justice is the head coach.”
“We continue to thank the Governor and the First Lady for their efforts putting the focus where it needs to be – getting our students to graduation, understanding that great academics leads to success and a better West Virginia,” Walker said. “We expect the best for you. And now, with all this extra help, for a lot of the challenges you all have to go through, we’re expecting greater and greater success.”
Desirae Vasquez, Director of Professional Education and Continuum Solutions Programming for the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation, joined both announcements virtually from her offices in Massachusetts.
“The GameChanger prevention approach is multifaceted in that it harnesses real-life skills that are known to be effective in helping children and teens choose not to use substances and get early help if they need it. These practical skills are non-threatening, fun, and easy for students to use for the rest of their lives,” Vasquez said. “We at the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation believe that the GameChanger model, with its student-powered approach to prevention, will change West Virginia’s legacy, creating healthy lives and brighter futures in the process.”
WV GameChanger’s Opioid and Substance Misuse Prevention Education Program will become part of the curriculum at both Wheeling Park High School and Clay-Battelle Middle/High School this fall.
Today’s events mark the latest set of schools added to the roster of program participants since its inception.
In December 2021, Gov. Justice announced the launch of the program, and that Lincoln High School, Lincoln Middle School, and Big Elm Elementary School would be the first schools to participate. Then, in February 2022, Gov. Justice announced that the program would be expanding to Greenbrier East High School and Greenbrier West High School.
WV GameChanger intends to offer its Opioid and Substance Misuse Prevention Education Program to all West Virginia elementary, middle, and high schools by the fall of 2027.
“What a great day for GameChanger. I can’t continue to thank Governor Justice enough for his leadership, his willingness to spend the time he does, evidenced by giving almost an entire day – and a Monday at that – to travel to these schools,” Boczek said. “Anyone who thinks he doesn’t genuinely care just doesn’t know the man very well.”
Under Gov. Justice’s leadership as “head coach,” the WV GameChanger initiative is emerging as a national leader in opioid and substance misuse prevention.
“GameChanger is doing unbelievable things for our kids and I’m honored to be the head coach for such an important program. It’s just one piece of the puzzle in our fight against drugs, but it’s an important piece,” Gov. Justice said. “I congratulate both of these incredible schools on being added to the program and I am confident that the students we met today will be the ones who truly help us change the game.”
GameChanger works directly with schools to implement, monitor, and sustain the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation’s student peer leadership programs, which have been found by research to help children make healthy choices about alcohol, opioids, and all other drugs. As a youth-led prevention, positive development, and community enhancement initiative, GameChanger programming is designed to educate, support, and empower young West Virginians to live healthy, drug-free lifestyles, while preparing to be our leaders of tomorrow.
To learn more about the program, visit GameChangerUSA.org.