Anne Arundel high school students seek to inspire peers to donate blood Recruitment efforts encourage teen donors

May 20, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Students at Columbia's Wilde Lake High School played Beatles music and read Dr. Seuss to calm blood donors during an American Red Cross blood drive there in February.

At Old Mill Senior High School in Millersville, a teacher went table to table in the cafeteria, telling students how giving blood was the right thing to do, and at Towson's Dulaney High, T-shirts and public service points were exchanged for pints.

Intense recruiting, heart-string tugging and peer pressure are the weapons that helped those schools collect more than twice the average 52 pints usually collected from high schools at daylong blood drives. Since January, the American Red Cross has received more than 4,000 pints from 76 Baltimore-area high schools.

"High school students really donate more than anybody in the community -- they give blood like crazy," said Patrick Smith, a spokesman for the American Red Cross' Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region in Baltimore.

At the Aberdeen High School gym in Harford County on Monday, 17-year-old Katie Ruth sat in a chair wincing a few seconds into her ordeal, looking away as phlebotomist Teodoro Matiga Jr. cleaned the crook of her arm with iodine.

Katie said it's hard to find volunteer projects in Harford County and that giving blood is something she feels good about. "It wasn't that bad," she said when it was over. "It didn't hurt as bad as I thought. Just don't look at the needle!"

"They're all very nervous, but you get the nerves because they're so young," said Joann Bryan, another phlebotomist.

By noon, none of the registered donors had changed their minds, and 50 pints of blood had been gathered, most of them from students. At day's end, more than 75 pints had been donated.

Wilde Lake High School got many more pints at its drive Feb. 3 drive by making it a school-wide event.

Before the drive, "instead of just using the posters the Red Cross gives, which I think are kind of anonymous, we make our own," said Jerry Berkowitz, an English and journalism teacher who has run the drives for 25 years.

A dozen student recruiters write letters to students 17 or older, entice them with free bumper stickers and cookies, pretzels and sodas, and find popular students to get on the microphone in the cafeteria to pitch the drive. "It becomes a thing like, everyone's doing it," said Ruchi Mital, 17, head recruiter for the student blood drive. "And everyone wants to be a part of it."

On the day of the drive, Beatles music played as student volunteers escorted donors to the mesh reclining chairs. Once the needle and bag were set up, the students held the donors' hands, told them in soft voices that it would be over soon and read to them from children's books they had brought from home, such as Dr. Seuss or Goldilocks. The stories are short enough to be read during a blood-giving session and have happy endings. Teachers especially get a kick out of them.

The tactics are different, but equally effective, at Towson's Dulaney High School, where the National Honor Society ran a blood drive May 3 that pulled in 133 pints.

"We didn't have an activity that was ours, so this is going to be it," just like the student government members champion an annual food drive, said Anne Parsons, National Honor Society faculty adviser and biology and anthropology teacher.

Honor society members hung posters, recruited friends with the offer of free T-shirts and set up the drive for a Saturday from 8: 45 a.m. until about 5 p.m. so that teachers and students who couldn't spare school time could donate.

Honor society members must earn five points in community service in addition to the hours required for graduation.

"Two of them are taken care of by giving blood," said Holly Ponzillo, a student organizer. "I think that was a big incentive for some people."

Social studies teacher John Scripture was the incentive at Old Mill Senior High. He has organized blood drives for a decade, and his secret is that weeks ahead of time, he signs students up during his classes. If he gets close to drive day and does not have enough donors, he goes to the cafeteria, table to table, talking to students about donating.

He has motivated donors by keeping alive a friendly rivalry with Meade Senior High School. This spring, Old Mill trounced Meade 107 pints to 78.

"We try to make it as unstressful as possible and assure the students that it's safe," Scripture said.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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