Summit empowers teens for prevention
HUNTINGTON — More than 230 students who gathered Wednesday at Marshall University weren’t there to hear a not her lecture on the dangers of addiction. The Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership didn’t round them up to preach it.
The message of the eighth annual Cabell-Wayne Teen Summit transcended the antiquated “Just Say No” doctrine. Instead, students were challenged to use their own experiences and input to become a part of the solution themselves, to form a plan, and to carry it back to the 12 high schools and middle schools they represent in Cabell and Wayne counties.
“We’re trying to empower them so that they can find their own voice and become leaders and to identify some things in their school that they want to change,” said Angela Saunders, CCSAPP program director.
It’s not only the message in prevention that’s changed over the years, it’s the substances themselves. The use of electronic cigarettes and the popular Juul device, which vaporizes nicotine crystals that the user inhales, has skyrocketed among teenagers in the past five years.
“They’re in the schools, so they know what their issues are, and they’ll address that,” said Craig Jankowski, CCSAPP project coordinator.
CCSAPP guides youth groups in Cabell Midland, Huntington and Huntington St. Joseph high schools and all four middle schools, meeting once a month to orchestrate prevention efforts in their respective schools. The annual summit brings all these parties together at once with a single, unifying message students are then tasked with spreading to their schools.
“Instead of just saying no, we’re giving them the information to make their own decisions,” Jankowski added.
According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey compiled by the state Department of Education, about 14 percent of West Virginia’s high school students actively smoke cigarettes. Another 18 percent smoke marijuana, and 28 percent drink alcohol.
Those numbers are lower at the middle school level: Only 3.5 percent actively smoke cigarettes, 23.4 percent admit ever drinking alcohol and 8 percent say they have used marijuana.
Reaching that age group, and even earlier in the elementary schools, then becomes imperative to preventing substance use before it starts, said Justin Boggs, Cabell County Schools executive director of middle schools and alternative education.
“Schools are really doing a lot of this work themselves,” Boggs said. “It’s really about getting to these students in a targeted manner so that they can be successful.”
The Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership meets every third Wednesday of the month at noon at the United Way of the River Cities, located at 820 Madison Ave. in Huntington.
“Instead of just saying no, we’re giving them the information to make their own decisions.”
Craig Jankowski Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership project coordinator