An anti-drug message to grow with

November 05, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

On a raw, rainy morning they came to mingle with the little people and impart a life lesson that might, just might, save lives as childhood grows into adolescence.

In the Blue Ridge Elementary School gymnasium, more than 150 third, fourth and fifth graders sat Indian-style watching what passed for a stage: A series of blue chairs flanked by two large, black screens.

For the next 20 minutes 11 actors from Jefferson High School emerged from behind the screens to tell a story about substance abuse, using slapstick humor and audience interaction to make the lesson more palatable.


Afterward, some of the high schoolers agreed it was a strange experience.

"With inhalants it was a new concept but when we mentioned marijuana they knew what it was," says Steve Rainone, 16. "They understood what it was and it was kind of a scary thought."

Rainone, a senior from Charles Town, W.Va., was one of 17 student writers/directors and actors who shuttled between three elementary schools Tuesday, Oct. 29, performing an anti-drug sketch they had developed since mid-September.

While Rainone and his classmates wowed youngsters on their tour, a similar group of students involved in athletics presented a like-minded program to kids at four other elementaries.

Conceived by William M. Kaufman, regional youth specialist with EastRidge Health Systems in West Virginia, in cooperation with the FOCUS Coalition and school system, the traveling minstrel show was one component of a program that also included a poster creation contest. Winners of that segment will be on display at Martinsburg Mall once judging is completed.

The program took place during Red Ribbon Week, designated as a time to take a stand against drugs.

"I think drug awareness is a community effort. It affects society in so many ways," Kaufman says. "Unfortunately, kids are starting at earlier and earlier ages and I think it's important to give these messages repeatedly to earlier grades."

Under the watchful eye of Jefferson High drama teacher Steve Glendenning, the theater students quickly discovered that writing a 'Don't Do Drugs' program was easier said than done.

Many ideas were slashed for talking beyond the elementary students' levels, and students initially felt the subject matter would soar over their audience's heads.

The result was broad slapstick used to sugarcoat the seriousness of their message. And the performers were surprised by how enthusiastic their young audiences were.

"At first I thought it was going to be extremely difficult to convey an anti-drug message to elementary schools," says 16-year-old Jordan Ford, a Jefferson High junior. "I thought it was going to be over their heads."

"When they do get faced with these situations when they are older - hopefully they won't have to now - they'll look back and remember," said Jessica Hammett, 16, a Jefferson High junior. "When they grow up and are faced with it they'll say 'That's what they were talking about.'"

In the process, Kaufman says, the presenters received a reminder of the importance of remaining drug free.

"It gives them a sense of responsibility," Kaufman said. "I think when you have to give a message like this you have to believe it more yourself and take it to heart. And I think they did."

Though it boggles his mind to think elementary students need to be presented with the anti-drug message, Glendenning said he chose the younger students instead of having a middle-school audience because awareness does begin earlier in life.

"I've seen plenty of negative results of drugs," he says. "So anything to get the word out at any age is something we need to do."

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