Wilmot Leads the Way: Implementing a Game-Changing Curriculum to Combat Drug Abuse

After four children in a small school district in South Dakota experienced the loss of a parent by overdose, the school is taking action.


In November 2022, South Dakota witnesses its largest fentanyl bust in Roberts County. Law enforcement officers seized over 3 pounds of fentanyl powder in a staggering 53,000 pills laced with fentanyl. That’s enough to kill 4 million people. The town of Wilmot, located in Roberts County is home to just 400 people.

“We have a very big drug problem in Roberts County,” said Tracy Ronke, Wilmot School Counselor. “We have had it affect many of our kids in our district in many different ways. And I wanted to educate our kids on something that will help them lifelong.”

Ronke jumped at the chance to pilot the Emily’s Hope Substance Use Prevention Curriculum during the last school year and found it so effective that she is now teaching all grades, kindergarten through 5th grade.

Teacher teaching Emily's Hope Substance Use Prevention Curriculum

“But what we learned along the way doing the curriculum is they knew about the drugs. They knew about how drugs were being used. They knew that they saw them in their home. I had four of the children in my school district, two separate families, that were affected by a parent overdosing and passing away in our school building,” she said.

Ronke says helping kids understand substance use disorder and learn how to avoid the dangers of substance abuse is essential.

“We talk about how drugs can be a robber, a brain robber, how they can steal things and take things away from you, take away your ability to think, to process things,” she said.

What I’m being taught in the lessons is like never to smoke, vape, or use drugs of any sort. They can screw up the whole brain and even end your life. In the activity we were doing, I learned that even the slightest amount of drugs can get the whole brain confused. I didn’t get the message, so I couldn’t tell the body what to do, so I just stood there.

– A Wilmot fourth-grade student

“So not only are they learning about the drugs, and what drugs and alcohol can do to your body, but they’re learning, actually, why does my brain work? They’re learning science,” Ronke said.

Fourth-grader Ethan Swayze is getting his second year of Emily’s Hope Substance Use Prevention lessons.

“Don’t take drugs, you’ll mess up your life,” Ethan said.

“I think it’s great that they’re starting young, because their minds are like little sponges right now,” his mom Kim Swayze said. “They just soak everything in, and it’s a great time to start, plus they’re starting earlier and earlier and trying different things.”

Ronke said they’re using the vocabulary in the Substance Use Prevention Curriculum to help students advocate for themselves.

“We’ve tried to identify what is a trusted adult,” she said.

“Trusted adult is my parents or a doctor who gives me medicine,” another fourth-grade student said.

Trusted adult in the Emily's Hope Substance Use Prevention Curriculum

“I really enjoy in Emily’s Hope that it’s all about choice. It’s all about taking care of what you’re given, your brain, it’s yours, it runs your entire body. If you mess with that, you mess with everything in your life,” Ronke said. “It’s not just teaching them about drugs and alcohol and Emily’s Hope. It’s teaching them about being who they are, being smart, making a good choice, and have fun in life while you’re doing it.”

Explore our comprehensive substance use prevention curriculum, specifically designed to provide educators with a rich repository of age-appropriate and engaging content.

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