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Drug and alcohol prevention specialist eager to make difference

February 01, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Sherry London is really busy, but she's not complaining.

Instead, the drug and alcohol prevention specialist is excited about all the programs available to students and parents of the Waynesboro Area School District.

London feels that only the shared efforts of students, family and community will combat substance abuse among local students who have scored higher than the state average for lifetime use.

Students of all ages are given the chance to participate in existing, new and developing programs, such as one where they will address state legislators at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

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"If they are offered a cigarette or a drug, they're going to think 'I went to the Capitol,'" said London.

The decision to turn from the cigarette or drug will come from that opportunity, "not a teacher, not a book, but a life experience," she said.

Results of a 2003 Pennsylvania Youth Survey indicated eighth-graders in the school district were more likely to have used every type of substance included in the survey, except methamphetamine. The students matched the state average in that category.

Sixth-graders in the survey scored lower than the state averages, while the spike was seen in eighth and 10th grades. Usage was higher in 12th grade for cigarettes, marijuana and cocaine, while lower for alcohol, heroin and hallucinogens.

London said a system is in place to exclude tests where the student lied. The test is conducted every two years.

London was made the newest prevention specialist in the district in October 2005. She is paid through a state grant and works with district personnel and Communities That Care, a local organization.

London oversees a number of existing programs and is developing new ones.

Something she is especially eager about is the opportunity for 10 Waynesboro Area Middle School students to address state legislators in April. Five of those students were chosen by teachers and the other five by their peers.

The students will question why it is not illegal for people younger than 18 to smoke if it is illegal for them to purchase cigarettes.

"They will be introduced on the floor," said London.

At Waynesboro Area Senior High School, the 12 to 15 teenagers in the Students Against Destructive Decisions program are planning a generation-to-generation luncheon with senior citizens. Those students also are videotaping a film for a contest, organizing a student/faculty basketball game and preparing to travel to the national SADD conference in Massachusetts this July.

SADD students meet every other Wednesday after school to find positive activities that develop a natural high.

"We used to meet in the morning, at 7 o'clock in the morning," said London. "The kids showed up. They were great."

Although excited about their opportunities, the SADD students are concerned about seeing the program thrive once they graduate.

"We're trying to get younger people to join SADD," said Steph Pyle, a senior.

She hopes to remain involved in SADD, even when she's no longer a high school student.

Paul Clement, also a senior, first became interested in SADD for its methods of "helping kids to make better choices."

"Drugs and alcohol are pretty bad in this area," said Clement.

He feels it is important to speak out against substance abuse, so other students see that public action and are compelled to take a stand on their own.

Elementary school students participate in Red Ribbon Week and two programs for math and reading skills.

"What we find is that the better the kids are doing in school, the less likely they are to use drugs and alcohol," said London.

The Heads-up Program will again be presented to students and the public in early May. That program takes a frank and realistic look at the dangers of substance abuse.

Also, London said Communities That Care is looking to hold a gang awareness dinner with state police troopers as the guest speakers.

"We do have gangs in the area," said London.

London conducts evening classes for parents and offered to address area church youth groups using a Biblically-based lesson.

For more information about using London as a public speaker, call 717-762-1191, ext. 112172.

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