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Using Students to Educate Students

Four Deer River High School (DRHS) students, along with three adult chaperones hit the trail once again on behalf of alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention. This time they made their way to Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ole Opry, for the mid-year training of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, or CADCA. The training was held July 22 – 26th at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. More than 19-hundred participants, from around the country, were at the training. Four hundred of those participants were youth who attended CADCA’s National Youth Leadership Initiative.

This CADCA training conference was sponsored by the Deer River School District’s “Movement” campaign, which is funded by a $1 million grant provided through Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (MN DHS-ADAD) Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. The Movement campaign includes The S.T.E.P. Coalition, which is made up of Independent School District (ISD) 317 parents, business owners, school staff, volunteer groups, youth serving organizations, health care field, government and other community members. Its goal is to delay and reduce alcohol use in area youth.

Brianna Williams, Vanessa Truelove, Aaron Drotts and Perry Foster were the four DRHS students chosen to go to Tennessee. At the conference, the four were asked to identify a major problem they see in their community. They chose underage drinking and specifically the underlying problem of older kids/friends supplying the alcohol to the younger kids. Then each day throughout the conference they were asked to break the large problem into pieces to make it easier to solve the bigger picture. For instance, one day they broke up into groups to talk about where the problem was happening and then tried to solve that question. The next day they tackled the question “Where is everyone getting the alcohol?” The four said that by dissolving the large problem into smaller equations made solving the larger problem easier and a little more doable.

There was one idea that really struck the students as a great thing for problem solving amongst their student body. The idea is the Red Locker. Truelove explained that the school paints one locker a different color than all the other lockers. Only one person holds the key to that locker and it is an adult from the school office. Students then can, anonymously, seek help with a problem by slipping a notecard into the “red” locker. The adult with the key reads the notecard and seeks the right avenues to help the student with their problem.

The four days were not all about intense training, there was some down time. One of the perks of attending the conference in Nashville was a tour of downtown and a night out at the Grand Ole Opry. For the four DRHS students, the best part of being at the Opry was seeing the country music band Rascal Flatts. One other fun thing, they were able to get to know students from other states, especially a group from Michigan and a group from Tennessee. They also mentioned that more than half of the students at the conference were from Minnesota.

The students said they will absolutely use what they learned in Nashville to start changing the thought process of their fellow students and those in the community. They said they came away feeling hopeful. “I feel like we can make more of a change. We got new ideas to change the community. We learned to say something positive, like what you can do better than drinking alcohol,” said Brianna Williams.

While students were learning how to do their own problem solving, the adult chaperones were learning how to solve their own challenges. S.T.E.P. Coalition member and adult chaperone Sarah Bellefy said the topic they broached in the adult portion of the conference was sustainablility. That is, how can the community sustain all the great events and programs it’s established in the five-year-long Movement Campaign. She said she heard about what worked in some communities and also what didn’t work.

Bellefy said the real success was in creating programs that funded themselves, which can involve a lot of grant writing. She said a community needs to prepare itself for the day when the funding goes away. The other thing she learned at the conference was size didn’t matter when it came to the challenge of underage drinking and drug abuse. “Didn’t matter where you were from, there was almost always some kind of same problem. You could see here [in Deer River area] the house parties and then see there, in L.A., the mansion parties,” Bellefy reflected.

If you would like to be a part of The Movement you may contact Planning and Implementation Coordinator Ann Koetz by calling 246-8241 ext. 206 or emailing .