Teen leaders involved with local peer-to-peer drug prevention programs shared progress and personal observations with approximately 50 attendees Thursday evening at Eureka High School.
Several students from across the Rockwood School District, affiliated with the district's STAR (Supporting Teens At Risk) program, put on a skit in the Eureka High School theater. It was part of a larger offering hosted by the district's Drug Free Schools staff and Drug-Free Coalition community members.
The skit started with a few students milling about a beer keg and filling real-life cups with imaginary beer. Moments later, a female student brought out a flask, and started adding imaginary hard liquor to the cups.
A couple students engaged in an imaginary drinking game of "quarters," where two aligned players compete by trying to bounce a quarter into the opponent's cup of beer. If the coin lands in the opponent's beer, that player has to chug the beer.
The girl with the flask finally leaves the gathering, apparently to drive home. Her party friends wave to her as she leaves. Seconds later, the crowd hears the skid of tires, then the collision.
The red, flashing light of an emergency vehicle beams in a pulse off the side of the bright, silver keg. All the students on stage appear dumbfounded. Then, as quickly as their facial appearances disappear, they fall prostrate onto the stage, limp. As in dead.
The message seems clear: If even one of us falls, we all fall as a community, as a society. We're all dead.
Students conducted the skit to the song "Untitled" by the group Simple Plan. Members of that group wrote the song after a band member was killed in a drunk driving accident, said Brad Mintie, district youth leadership specialist. The song inspired the students' skit, he said.
The skit was followed by the students and authorities speaking to the scourge and effects of drugs, including alcohol, tobacco and even heroin. Jenny Armbruster, coordinator for the Eastern Regional Support Center of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said heroin was making a comeback.
Ken McManus, district coordinator for prevention, said he thought the students handled their charge very well Thursday evening.
"I thought the kids did a delightful job of representing what they're all about," McManus said. McManus heads the district's prevention program out of its annex building in Eureka.
Ben Mulholland, a junior at Lafayette High School in Wildwood, spoke to the crowd about tobacco products. Mulholland's presentation detailed all the chemicals found in a typical cigarette.
In particular, he said the companies that manufacture chewing tobacco include in their products fiberglass particles, so they cut into the chewer's gums, facilitating the absortion of nicotine closer to the chewer's brain. The habit can lead to the loss of teeth and even cancerous tumors, Mulholland said.
Mulholland showed a picture of a man who had to have part of his right cheek area removed because of smokeless tobacco.
He said he did feel obligated to ask other students or people if they would like help with getting away from drugs, or to get them help, as evidenced by him assisting a family member this month with getting into rehabilitation.
Darion Williams, a 17-year-old senior at Marquette High School, probably presented the district's most heart-wrenching story. Williams, in steadfast, bare language, told the crowd how his father had once accepted a bet that he couldn't drink a fifth of liquor and then drive home. His father did make it home, but while asleep he passed into an alcohol-induced coma, and being facedown on a pillow, suffocated.
When his father died, Darion was 3 years of age.
Noting the impact high school students could have, Williams said a group of students across the state head every year to the Jefferson City state capitol to talk with legislators about problems they witness. Another student, Ilona Kiss, a Brentwood High School senior taking part in Thursday's event, noted the students this year helped get a bill passed to outlaw synthetic marijuana, such as the brand K2.
Williams said the president pro-tem of the Missouri Senate came to talk with them before the vote, outlining the bill.
"It was really enlightening to know that they cared about such things as we do," he said.
In 2009, the Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition received a grant of $125,000 per year for five years, with it being potentially renewable for five additional years. The grant was funded by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a nonprofit organization that works to maintain safe, healthy and drug-free.
The coalition also was awarded a $5,000 grant to develop a youth leadership training program. The grant was awarded by MO ACT, a state level organization that facilitates substance abuse prevention across Missouri. The youth leadership training provides an opportunity for Rockwood community leaders to coach student leaders.
Jacob VanTuyl, a junior at Rockwood Summit High School, from Fenton, is a good example of that type of leader. He got involved with STAR when he was in sixth grade, and now advises other, younger students.
VanTuyl said he enjoyed attending the Rockwood Youth Leadership Academy at Babler State Park this year, as well as the St. Louis West County Youth Prevention Leadership Conference.
"Not all high school students do drugs, but I do see a lot of students who immediately smoke cigarettes the minute they get to their cars after school, even though we are a smoke-free campus," he said. "I think students benefit from talking to others about how to walk away from the pressure at parties to do drugs or to drink."
Other topics addressed by these student groups, according to the panel on hand, are teen pregnancy, sex, and various types of pill usage.