BEVERLY — As the new face behind Briscoe Middle School's student assistance program, one of the first things Sherry Zide plans to do is bring in more outside visitors and programs to teach kids about substance abuse issues.

She has the Worcester Tornadoes baseball team lined up to talk to sixth-graders, has a national theater group ready to perform for seventh-graders and wants to have students from Recovery High School speak about their experiences in health classes.

She said she wants to try to keep everything engaging and involve young people as much as possible.

"It's kids looking at other kids instead of adults lecturing," Zide said.

The student assistance program is based on a national effort designed to educate high school students about abusing drugs and alcohol and to get them help instead of punishing them.

Funded by grants, it was started in Gloucester High School by Amy Kam three years ago and spread to Beverly High School not long after.

"No one comes to me and says they have a substance abuse problem," Kam said. "You start with where the kid is. It's more like, my boyfriend broke up with me, my mother kicked me out of the house, I'm failing all my classes, and I hate this school."

Kids who feel isolated in middle school are at a higher risk to develop substance abuse problems later on, Kam said. Zide's job is more about homing in on students who sit by themselves at the cafeteria every day, for instance, and trying to build confidence and make them feel more socially connected through group activities, communication and friendship.

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