As high school students try on prom dresses, peruse corsages and organize graduation parties, their parents may begin to worry about the potential dangers of drugs and alcohol their children could confront this spring.
Nearly 300 students from across Saratoga County came together to discuss different ways to promote responsible decision-making during these milestones at The Prevention Council’s 34th annual Safe Spring Student Leadership Conference Thursday morning at Skidmore College.
“We need to remind young people they don’t need alcohol to celebrate,” Janine Stuchin, executive director of the Prevention Council, said.
Students from 13 Saratoga County schools, including Shenendehowa and Waterford-Halfmoon, met to share ideas and learn how to expand their local SADD chapters.
Shenendehowa’s SADD delegation was led by Emily Sellman, a special educator at Shenendehowa, and included junior, Meghan Reynolds, and three freshman, Emma Voska, Katie Morgan, and Giavanna Liberatore. This was Reynolds’ second time attending the Safe Spring Student Leadership Conference. “I just wanted to do something to make a difference in my school,” she said.
Freshman Emma Voska noted the importance of SADD for Shenendehowa, saying it “helped heal the community” in the wake of the loss of students Deanna Rivers and Christopher Stewart to a drunk driving accident in 2012. All of Shenendehowa’s SADD members said the accident in 2012 played a role in their decision to join the club. The group is gearing up for the Sean’s Run 5K on April 24th. The annual event will honor Christopher Stewart this year. The chapter’s members agreed that the conference helped them feel more confident in their ability to make a difference in their community.
The conference began with a keynote speech by Justin Fischer, the pastor of student ministries at Pine Knolls Alliance Church in South Glens Falls. Fischer’s opening remarks related the potential of an acorn to grow into a tree when nourished properly to a student’s potential to grow into the best versions of themselves, if they are able to make responsible decisions.
“The keynote talk was all about the potential inside of us,” said Stuchin. “Acorns need sunlight, air and soil. The decisions we make strengthen our potential or limit our potential,” she added.
After Fischer’s speech, students split up for various workshops and SADD advisers had a chance to meet with other advisers from throughout the county.
Expressive Prevention, a workshop led by Prevention Council Youth Specialist Kait Downey, focused on creative ways to spread positive messages, whether that’s through songs, poetry or visual art. Downey shared some of her own poetry and played a Macklemore song, “Kevin” featuring Leon Bridges, which highlights the dangers of prescription drug abuse. In the song, Leon Bridges croons, “Doctor, please. Give me a dose of the American Dream. Put your pen down and look in my eyes. We’re in the waiting room and something ain’t right. This is on you. Overprescribe.” At the song’s closing, Bridges sings, “Doctor, your medicine and your methods, can’t cure my disease without killing me.”
After providing examples of drug prevention messages in art, Downey asked the SADD members in the classroom to create something of their own.
Prevention Council Media and Marketing Specialist LeeAnn Mandrillo shared her thoughts on the conference, saying, “The Safe Spring conference empowers these students on every level. As peer educators they gain valuable tools they can bring back to their schools and use in peer education. As individuals they gain knowledge on how to make safe healthy decisions as they navigate through spring celebrations such as prom and graduation.”
Stuchin described the conference as one of the Prevention Council’s cornerstone events. “We work throughout the year to energize and educate the SADD chapters across the county because a peer to peer message [is powerful.] We use the information we have, and the advisers, to help direct and craft that message in ways that we know are effective.”
Stuchin suggested parents try talking with their children about drug and alcohol use while in a car or on a walk, since sometimes talking side by side feels less confrontational than face to face. Both Mandrillo and Stuchin urged parents and other adults to lead by example, not with words alone.
Wes Carr, Saratoga County Youth Bureau director and STOP DWI coordinator, noted, “the feeling with kids that when they’re high school graduates, then they’re adults” and how that could lead to potentially dangerous behaviour. Stuchin agreed, adding, “It’s a milestone and we can challenge the myth that we have to celebrate milestones with alcohol. Bringing these students together helps reinforce that.”
“There’s great energy and momentum because these are kids who are committed throughout the year to talking with their peers. It’s about affirming the fact that many young people are making positive choices,” said Stuchin.