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Working toward a drug-free culture

  • SULLIVAN

  • Middle school students from various schools mix it up and meet each other in small groups at the You Lead Middle School Conference at the Greenfield Community College on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • You Lead Middle School Conference at the Greenfield Community College got to listen to Greenfield Middle School students tout their school on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Paul FranZ

  • Middle school students from various schools mix it up and meet each other in small groups at the You Lead Middle School Conference at the Greenfield Community College. March 29, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Middle school students from various schools introduce themselves on stage at the You Lead Middle School Conference at the Greenfield Community College. March 29, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Middle school students from various schools introduce themselves on stage at the You Lead Middle School Conference at the Greenfield Community College. March 29, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

GREENFIELD — Standing on a stage full of middle school students from across the region, a dozen spoke about what it means to be “STRONG” — which stands for “sports, theater, respect, original, nice and giving.”

It was an opportunity for leaders in their schools, from Greenfield Middle School to White Brook Middle School in Easthampton, to explain to their peers and teachers what makes a strong leader.

Gathering at Greenfield Community College Wednesday morning, student leaders learned about how to support a drug-free culture in their communities in a day full of activities organized by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and hosted by the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.

“It really starts in middle (school) and what we’re trying to do is to do the early prevention,” District Attorney David E. Sullivan said. “It’s never too early to give good messages to kids.” Kids learned about how to say ‘no’ to drugs and alcohol — and what alternatives to take, like participating in sports or theater.

At the start of the event, schools presented posters about what they’re proud of in their communities. That was followed by mixing the students with peers from across the region to help them learn from each other. Many of these groups came up to the stage and spoke of the activities they do in addition to traditional learning in school, everything from track to trombone.

Regardless of the activity, the MIAA and the DA’s office want the students to learn that they can participate in drug-free activities after school.

“Addiction really takes hold in the adolescent brain,” said Laurie Loisel, director of community outreach and education at the District Attorney’s Office. “The longer you can put off young people using substances the better your chances.”

This program is typically run out of the MIAA’s office, but with the DA’s sponsorship, they were able to take it on the road and present it to a wide group of teens.

“We want people to know that we do a lot more than just sports,” the day’s organizer for MIAA, Carolyn Bohmiller said.

Teachers also played a part in the day’s activities. The MIAA set up workshops for those present so that they can be better equipped to help lead against drug use in their schools.

It was an opportunity for both teachers and students to learn about some of the perils of drug use and what it can lead to for students — but also how the student leaders can set examples in their communities.

“At the middle school level you’re more aware of all the pressures and outside stresses,” said Ashley Fitzroy, student council adviser and teacher at Greenfield Middle School. “It’s empowering for them to hear that they can be agents of change.”

Her students, some of the leaders on the school’s student council, were excited to be with peers from around the region that they never got to know previously and sometimes played against in sports.

‘If you’re here you’re doing something right,” Greenfield Middle School seventh-grader Aiden Fulton said.

His classmates echoed the sentiment. They also noted the need for a program like this.

“Especially in our town there’s a lot of heroin usage,” Fulton said.

The students realized that from this program they can be the leaders to teach their friends and peers do the right thing.

“In our community we can try to stop in and make it less popular,” seventh-grader Hannah Poirier said.

“A lot of people know what it can do to you but not the consequences,” seventh-grader Kelsey Richardson added.

The middle schoolers recommended a program like this one to come to their school, too, noting it would help their peers a lot.

“I don’t know if over-talking about it would be good,” Fulton said. “But once in a while is good.”

During one of the highlights in the morning, a magician and educator taught the students about how to not get into bad situations and if you do, what to do, like at a party. When he reached the question-and-answer portion of his presentation, one student asked him if you need to have used drugs to talk about it. He told her “no,” anyone can teach and help lead their peers — which seemd to be clearly a moment of realization for this room full of middle school student-leaders.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 264