Kicking butts & taking names: Nevada County schools host tobacco prevention program
What better way to get kids engaged than to have a little fun?
That's what county schools did Wednesday during the 21st annual Kick Butts Day, a national event of tobacco awareness and prevention targeting the most vulnerable teenage students.
Kick Butts Day may not be new, but with the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools' new Tobacco Use Prevention Education's $324,263 Tier 2 grant, and the hiring of new TUPE Project Coordinator Marlene Mahurin, county schools took efforts to a new level this year.
The three-year Tier 2 TUPE commitment has taken tobacco prevention education to schools throughout the county, and most have embraced the enhanced focus.
Most county schools took part in Kick Butts Day in some form, though all were given the freedom to spread the message in their own creative ways.
At Seven Hills School, TUPE administrator Steve Davis conducted an experiment showing the effects of tar on the lungs using a siphon to demonstrate how much tar goes through a cigarette.
"This is the tar that ends up in the lungs of a person who smokes," said Davis. "Then, you go over here, and you see tar in a jar," he said, showing off a collection of contaminated containers. "This is a collection of the tar that ends up in a person's lungs who smokes half a pack a day for a year."
To sidestep the disgusting but effective display, Seven Hills students loaded the blacktop area with encouraging messages. Kids made signs affirming who and what they are, and that they are not replacements. The messages were a reaction to an R.J. Reynolds memo searching for backup smokers for those who've died.
An example of signs:
"I am not a replacement, I'm a musician and athlete."
"I am not a replacement, I'm a runner."
"I am not a replacement, I'm a dancer."
"You are your own person and you like to do all these things," said Mia Collins, 13, one of Davis' peer educators. "By smoking you're just ruining opportunities for yourself."
"I have relatives who smoke," said Kaylah Peters, 13, an eighth-grader and member of the peer educators for the past two-plus months. "It can kill them, simple as that. I want them to know how dangerous it is."
Peters joined Anna Clove, Olivia Andrews and Collins as fellow peer educators.
Clove has friends who smoke. "They're going to end up in a position when they're older where they get cancer and die. Your brain is still developing, and you're learning all these new things, and smoking is just going to mess with it."
VAPING ALSO A FOCUS
Smoking wasn't the only topic addressed. Vaping has created a false sense of security among teens that it's simply not as harmful as smoking, something educators are trying to nip in the butt — pun intended.
"There is a movement among the people promoting vaping to encourage kids that vaping is not a harmful activity that appeals to young people because they come in bubble gum flavors," Davis said. "The issue with vaping is the process of moving the material that's in the vape … is a steam process that has chemicals that makes that material go into a person's lungs, and it's not too much different than cigarettes."
At Lyman Gilmore Middle School, NEO Youth Center was on hand with activities to encourage their classmates to be leaders among their peers. They brought a conversation ball pit, with the idea of getting kids to socialize. Students sit in a ball pit two or three at a time, choose a question off of one of the larger balls and ask any random question that appears.
"It gets them socializing, laughing, and through it all they start bonding," NEO co-founder Halli Edwards said.
Missy Bill, the site administrator at Lyman Gilmore, said despite all the fun, the point is to educate.
"It's just about giving kids the important facts so they can make an educated decision," she said. "If they are able to have that information, and make positive decisions, and feel empowered with that information, that's good enough for me."
Part of the program at Lyman Gilmore was not only to bring in NEO Youth Center but also Nevada Union High School's Athletes Committed.
"I want them to see these athletes from NU who are examples of how you don't have to use alcohol, drugs or anything else to be somebody," Bill said. "They're here interacting, playing games, having fun, and showing them what a leader looks like."
AN EARLY START
Kick Butts Day wasn't just about Wednesday. On Monday, Earle Jamieson alternative education counselor Saralyn Crossen spoke to her students about tobacco use and the importance of remaining as healthy as possible, including eating healthy, getting adequate sleep and staying physically active.
Her address to her students served as a segue into Wednesday's activities.
"The benefit to an early start is to raise awareness on tobacco use prevention education system programming and have them have time to reflect on why giving resources and education on this topic is so valuable," she said. "It's important they know physical activity and good nutrition which helps for overall health and wellness."