The U.S. Department of Education has selected Murray and Lehi high schools for top awards for their drug-free schools programs.
The Utah schools, notified of the national honor by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, are two of 51 schools nationwide to receive the award.Representatives of the schools will fly to Washington, D.C., to receive the awards from President Bush in May.
"We view this not as a school award but as a community award. The community as a whole made a great attempt to deal with the substance-abuse problem," Russell Felt, principal of Lehi High School, said Tuesday. "We are still a small community, but we have a high interest in youth from a group point of view and I think in the last two or three years, the youth have stayed close in helping one another."
Felt attributed much of Lehi's success to Mike Cottam, a counselor at the school who helped instigate the drug-free program, which focuses on "Zod" - a support group for any teen with any kind of problem.
Class instruction on drugs and substance abuse are also included in the program, as are peer support groups.
According to principal Richard Tranter, the essence of Murray High's award-winning program is building self-esteem.
"The drug-free program is about prevention. The whole focus is to help them feel good about themselves, while teaching them about the pitfall of drugs," Tranter said.
A unique feature of the Murray program is sophomore home visits.
Teachers, counselors, administrators - including Superintendent Ron Stephens - actually visit the homes of every sophomore student.
The visits, Tranter said, aren't designed to find out if there is a drug problem but if the student has any adjustment problems that could lead to drug use.
Student achievers are recognized by teachers through Spartan Grams - telegrams that are sent to the students' homes.
Additionally the Student of the Week award, given to a student who has made some significant accomplishment, nets the award-winner prizes donated by local merchants and a prominent place in the Murray Hall of Fame, where the student's picture is hung.
Under the auspices of the PTA, Murray High students are also taught "critical (drug) issues" through a series of presentations by health-care officials, prisoners and athletes who've seen first-hand the problems caused by drugs.
"It's very exciting to think that our programs have been measured by the federal government as being that successful," Tranter said. "Our whole goal is to provide the very best education we can for the kids in Murray, including the evils of drug."
Murray and Lehi high schools were among more than 20 Utah schools competing for awards in the drug-free schools program. After screening the applications, the state forwarded some of them to the U.S. Department of Education, which received 261 applications. Visits were made to 122 schools - including five in Utah - before 51 were selected for top honors.