When Prevention Coordinator Cheryl Jonese first reintroduced Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) to Pocahontas County High School last year, it was a small chapter.
“I had the opportunity to take five high school students – Allysa Dunbrack, Olivia Knisley, Allie Plate, Heather Pritt and Steven Simmons – to a S.A.D.D. conference,” she said. “and I went there with the intention of letting them get an idea of what S.A.D.D. was. At the end of the conference, I asked them if this was something they wanted to bring to our county, and they said ‘yes.’”
While at the conference, the students learned that S.A.D.D. was about youth empowerment. Experience has shown that teenagers are inclined to listen to one another, and as a result of that, teenagers have become some of S.A.D.D.’s best ambassadors when it comes to spreading educational prevention messages about alcohol, drugs and other destructive decisions.
Upon their return, the Pocahontas County High School S.A.D.D. chapter was officially formed. Dunbrack, Knisley, Plate, Pritt, and Simmons attended S.A.D.D.’s first meeting, and by the end of the year, the organization had grown to more than 20 members.
“This year, I’ve turned the advisor/sponsorship over to Darlene Arbogast and Courtney Curran,” Jonese said, “and at their very first meeting, they had about thirty-five students. I attended one recently, and they had forty-three.”
The organization’s growth in the county did not stop at the high school level, either. Extensions of Pocahontas County’s S.A.D.D. chapter have since appeared at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School and Marlinton Middle School.
When asked if S.A.D.D. chapters extended down to the elementary level, Jonese said it was possible.
“Typically, it’s been in the middle and high schools,” she explained, “but our West Virginia S.A.D.D. organization is working on a manual/activity guide for the younger children. The beauty of S.A.D.D. is that it’s peer-led. The chapter has an advisor, but the advisor sits back and allows the kids to make all of the decisions. That’s a little harder for younger children to do, so we’re developing a manual of activities for them.”
However, the activities are not just for younger students.
One event, hosted by the PCHS S.A.D.D. chapter, was a movement in opposition to drunk driving.
“During Red Ribbon week, we campaigned for ‘Tie One on for Safety,’” Jonese explained. “It was right around Christmas and New Year’s, and the hope was to encourage people to tie a red ribbon on their car antenna, signifying that they were hoping we’d have a safe, sober holiday and that there would be no incidents of drunk driving.”
In addition to their Tie One on for Safety campaign, PCHS students appeared before the county commission in May and asked that the commission declare the second week in May National Prevention Week within Pocahontas County.
The students headed a Prom Promise campaign, as well.
“The entire student body watched Prom: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Jonese said. “As a result of that, kids signed a pledge that they would not drink and drive during prom, nor would they ride with anyone who had alcohol in their system.”
Another campaign S.A.D.D. members began last year and are continuing to work on this year is the Words Have Meanings campaign.
“One student said that she was tired of hearing people using offensive language in the hallways,” Jonese explained. “People don’t often think about the words they use and the messages they send, so we started a campaign against it. Sometimes you don’t think about the words you use. Words do have meanings, and sometimes, they’re offensive to others. Through the campaign, students hope to encourage others to take a minute and think before they let that word come out of their mouth.”
Every year, the state of West Virginia loan DUI simulators to schools, and S.A.D.D. members worked with high school driving instructor Kay Wiley to set up a distracted driving campaign. At the end of the course, students signed a pledge that they would not drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or ride with anyone who was.
“That’s how a lot of the message gets passed along,” Jonese said. “Not only making the right decision yourself, but encouraging other people to do the same.”
This year’s Green Bank Elementary-Middle School S.A.D.D. students have started a campaign of their own against bullying and gossip. Together, the students hope to create a paper chain. On the inside of each link, students will write down whatever negative act or word they’ve seen or heard, and to counter the negativity, students will write a positive message on the outside.
At the November 16 Board of Education Local School Improvement Council/Faculty Senate meeting, three of Marlinton Middle School’s S.A.D.D. members updated the board members on their time at the 2015 S.A.D.D. conference held at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke.
“This year’s theme was ‘Superheroes Unite!’” MMS S.A.D.D. member Carly Keatley explained. “One of the chapter advisors taught me their motto: ‘You’re already super, now be a hero.’”
“We did a team building workshop,” fellow member Emily Casto said of one activity. “The task was to make a comic strip showing how we got involved with S.A.D.D. or what we do to help raise awareness of S.A.D.D. in our community.”
For their strip, Casto, Keatley and Hadden Mick drew the five PCHS students who attended 2014 S.A.D.D. conference in their first panel. The second panel featured PCHS S.A.D.D. members coming to speak with Marlinton Middle School students and raise awareness, and then in their final panel, Casto, Keatley and Mick drew the Pocahontas County chapters attending the 2015 S.A.D.D. conference.
“We had a bunch of guest speakers, too,” Casto said. “One author came and talked to us about her book on scars. She talked about how she was bullied as a kid and how she overcame that.”
According to Mick, the West Virginia Mountaineer, Michael Garcia, spoke at the conference, as well.
“He talked to us about his journey to become the Mountaineer,” he said, “and how he didn’t make the cut one year. He told us that he overcame that and was able to become the Mountaineer the next year. He talked to us about the risks he took, too.”
“I think the power of S.A.D.D. is absolutely letting kids know that you can have a wonderful time without taking part in some of the destructive decisions out there,” Jonese said. “You don’t have to drink. You don’t have to smoke, and you don’t have to try drugs to be cool and popular. There’s power in numbers.
“The majority of our kids don’t do those things, but the stories you hear are about the kids that do. So, sometimes kids feel that if they aren’t in that group, then they don’t fit in or belong.
“S.A.D.D. can bring the power and those numbers to our county and let kids see that you don’t have to do those things.”