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Shining force for the good

Drug-related crime among young people in Merthyr Tydfil has halved since the launch of a peer-led drug awareness programme - and much of its success is down to an award-winning secondary teacher, according to local police.

Sue Davies, who teaches health and social care, co-ordinates the programme from Pen-y-dre high school, where she has taught for 25 years.

HYPE, based on an initiative pioneered by Thames Valley police, was launched five years ago. PC Nigel Bromage believes Mrs Davies, who won a Plato for community involvement in this summer's annual Welsh teaching awards, has played a key role in making it work.

"She's superb. She encourages the youngsters and gets them on board," he says. "I don't know anyone else who will unfailingly give so much to make something work. It's because she really cares about the youngsters and wants the best for them."

The programme, the only one of its kind in Wales, is aimed at 12 and 13-year-olds.

Mrs Davies says: "It works because the students will accept a message from people their own age in a way that they wouldn't from an adult. There's no point in us teachers telling them about drugs as they just don't think that we come from the real world."

Pen-y-dre high, with its 800 pupils, is situated on the Gurnos estate, a disadvantaged area with high levels of unemployment.

But Mrs Davies says: "I've spent all my working life here and I enjoy it.

The people are friendly and most of them are working hard to improve the estate. Co-operation with the school's projects is excellent."

Mrs Davies is also the school contact point for pupils who care for other family members. She and a project worker from Barnardo's, the children's charity, hold informal fortnightly sessions with young carers.

She says: "Many of them look after ailing parents or siblings as well as shopping and cooking. If things are difficult at home and they haven't managed to do their homework, for instance, I can explain to their teacher and they won't be punished.

"The youngsters want to be treated normally. But there are times when they need support."

Much of Mrs Davies's formidable energy is directed towards encouraging her students to become fully paid-up members of the community.

"I like to instil a sense of citizenship as I think it leads to a fuller life. You can partake fully in a community once you can relate to other people and the problems they are facing," she explains.

"Meeting pupils outside the classroom allows you to get to know them on a different level."

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