Teens strategize to curb peers' substance abuse

Statewide youth council meets, presents ideas, goals to leaders


News from around the Baltimore region

March 13, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

When Tony Esser started at Huntington High School in Calvert County last fall, like many high school freshmen, he wanted to be cool. Part of gaining that image, he said, was sitting on the back of the school bus. The 14-year-old said he was surprised, though, when he saw what was happening there.

"They were smoking stuff, snorting stuff," Esser recalled yesterday. "They were doing drugs on the back of the bus."

That experience influences Esser's involvement with the Maryland Teen Advisory Council, which this year is working on an awareness campaign to warn teens about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.

The council met at Annapolis Middle School yesterday to discuss its campaign and devise a strategy to encourage teens to remain drug- and alcohol-free. They presented their ideas - including helping communities develop more after-school activities and lobbying for community centers - to Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, and to first lady Kendel Ehrlich.

The council was formed in February 2003 and counts as members two representatives from each of the state's 24 school districts. The focus on drug and alcohol abuse came as a result of a statewide student survey.

"We saw that we still have an issue regarding drugs and alcohol," Grasmick said. She and Ehrlich said that using teens to reach other teens and parents can be a more effective tool than recruiting adults to tackle the problem.

"We thinks kids are the experts," Ehrlich said. "They know what's going on."

When Esser saw the open drug use on his school bus, at first he didn't want to get involved. But then he told administrators at his high school, he said, and the drug use stopped.

"As a freshman, seeing it firsthand, I really recognized it was a problem," he said, adding that the council gives him "a good place to voice my opinions."

The opinions voiced by council members were diverse, as the students recognized that individual school districts have different needs when it comes to fighting drug and alcohol use.

The group has both short-term and long-term goals. This year, it wants to reduce drinking during prom season. A new brochure, designed by the students, encourages teens to go to a Web site to learn about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. The site, www.thecommunityofconcern.org, keeps track of how many students visit from each school, and the schools with the most participation can win prizes.

The students also are working on posters and public service announcements.

The students discussed the importance of providing adequate activities for teens, and, as a long-range goal, they want to assess community needs.

Some said there should be more after-school activities at their schools, while others said existing activities can be used to spread the council's message. Some communities may need to build centers that hold youth activities, students said. The group plans to produce guidelines to help community leaders address these issues.

"We want to empower each district to deal with this themselves," said Shane Seremet, 17, a senior at La Plata High School in Charles County and a co-chair of the council. "We want to expand the possibilities for teens to make good choices."

By the end of yesterday's meeting, the students also decided that it's important for them to work with parents, to let them know how much their involvement in teens' lives matters.

If parents, students and schools can work together, Seremet said, "that's the best thing we can ask for."

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