High school students receive grants for plans to end youth drug abuse

Daily Press

High school students from West Point and New Kent recently attended the Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Program, with several bringing home grants to help carry out their ideas.

July’s week-long conference is “a peer-led program for high school students to address underage substance use at the high school level,” according to the conference’s website. Student teams attend with an adult sponsor to develop strategic plans to address underage drug and alcohol abuse.

West Point High School sent two teams of three to the workshop this year. Both returned with $250 grants to carry out their Strategy to Act Now plans, which they developed throughout the week.

West Point High School Team 1, sponsored by Laura Norris, proposed the plan “DADA: Daughters Against Drugs and Alcohol.”

The team chose to target the problem of prescription drug abuse among teens. Freshman team member Jessica Lee said the high school has a problem with some students distributing prescription drugs among their peers.

“I really don’t like that. I don’t want to be a part of that and I really don’t want anyone else to, either,” Lee said. “We just want to spread the word to please, don’t do drugs.”

The team hopes to plan a school-wide event to promote the end of prescription drug abuse. They hope that a day of games and food, followed by music and a motivational speaker, will inspire their fellow students to make good choices.

“We feel it will bring our community together and make it a safer place,” the team wrote. “Our town has been struggling with drugs and alcohol, (so) we hope to someday lower the deaths related (to that.)”

Lee said the team hope to use the grant money to rent the pavilion behind the library in downtown West Point. The event will be informative, but also feature fun activities for the entire community.

“We want to decrease the percentage of (people) using drugs by at least 2 or 3 percent,” Lee said. “We want (the event) to get bigger every year.”

West Point High School Team 2, sponsored by Norris and Bill Schramm, named their plan “MAD: Mentors Against Drugs.” Their plan targets the role that peer pressure plays in drug and alcohol abuse.

“I have had people ask me if I wanted to do drugs before,” said sophomore team member Dawson Haviland. “I said no, but some people get pressured by family and friends and they agree because they want to stay friends and be cool.”

Haviland said having his father as someone to look up to was key in keeping him and his siblings away from drugs. He said he’s been lucky, but there are others who may not have been.

To mitigate the problem, the team wants to have a “mini-YADAPP” at West Point High School that targets incoming freshmen. The goal is to educate students on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse before they encounter peer pressure.

Both West Point teams plan to raise money through bake sales, school dances and car washes. Since the members of both teams will join the school’s Students Without Drugs Club, they plan to combine forces to complete their plans.

New Kent High School sent a team of four students to the conference and they, too, returned with a $250 grant for their plan.

“We wanted to address the problems with kids using vape (pens) and Juuls, so we wanted to create a day dedicated to the awareness of (the risks),” said rising junior Sarah McGinley.

McGinley described a growing vaping problem within New Kent Public Schools. Seniors who can legally buy the alternative smoking devices often resell them to younger students.

“(Leah Hamilton) is a rising ninth-grader and she pointed out that some of the older students at the high school are giving middle schoolers access to (vape pens,)” said Amy McGinley, the team’s sponsor and a teacher at New Kent Middle School. “It’s not just a high school problem. It’s a middle school problem, too,”

The team’s plan includes an all-day, school-wide relay to spread awareness about the risks of vaping and to further emphasize the risks of using other drugs and alcohol. They hope to host the event for incoming freshmen.

Relay events include racing while breathing through a straw to simulate smoking damage to lungs, and racing with “drunk goggles,” which simulate intoxication.

“We’ll use the grant money for the supplies,” said Sarah McGinley. “It’ll be things like ribbon for finish lines, straws, markers, erasers and paper for flyers.”

Both Amy and Sarah McGinley say they look forward to returning to the conference next year.

Sarah McGinley plans to apply to return as a youth leader rather than a participant next year, meaning she would be leading other students as they establish plans to combat alcohol and drug abuse problems in their school.

“You feel kind of awkward (in the beginning) because you’re not expecting so much energy, but by the end of the week you’re one of the crazy ones yelling everything,” said Sarah McGinley.

Simmons can be reached at ksimmons@tidewaterreview.com or @KassieLSimmons.

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