Peabody-Burns High School sophomores Chance Elliott and Bryant Young and PBHS principal Ken Parry represented Marion County Substance Abuse Coalition from Feb. 1 to 4 in Washington D.C. at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) 26th annual National Leadership Forum.
The students were chosen in part because of their dedication to and attendance at TADA — Teens Against Destructive Activities — at PBHS. Parry made the decision to take younger students so that whatever they gleaned from the conference would be the basis for a long-term application of change at PBHS.
“It seemed counterproductive to take a senior,” Parry said. “The conference is in February and seniors will graduate in three months. While I am sure they absorb a wealth of information, that is not much time to create and implement a program of change.”
Parry said the young men want to communicate what they learned to people their own age and younger. Their presentations will be geared to middle school students and high school underclassmen so that there will be time to create some programs and put them into play. Doing so would keep a steady stream of knowledgeable younger students moving up to keep a program flowing.
“Bryant and Chance want to collaborate with the student body about creating peer programs that point students in the right direction,” Parry said. “Part of what they learned in Washington was how to encourage others to respect themselves and each other and to give everyone a chance to move in a positive direction. There was lots of discussion about being more positive, not with false praise, but by identifying and building on the pluses others have.
“They want to ‘change the culture’ so that instead of the community thinking that PBHS has a few kids who don’t make poor choices or exhibit destructive behavior, it becomes acceptable to more young people to be part of a positive behavior model — make it the norm for kids instead of the exception,” he added. Positive communication and mentoring of younger students are some areas the two young leaders would like to explore and develop.
Parry also said the conference reviewed the way drugs are being abused today with pain pill abuse on the rise, serving as a stepping stone to heroin addiction – a growing problem, especially among young people. Featured were keynote speakers concerned about drug abuse, including those who addressed the fight against marijuana legalization by countering myths associated with marijuana use and its long term effect on the human body. Breakout sessions included discussion on what schools can do to help prevent drug use.
“I learned a lot about the abuse of prescription pain pills and how it is directly leading to heroin addiction” Young said. Elliott added, “I liked the presentation by the Harvard professor about the negative side effects of marijuana and why it shouldn’t be legalized.”
“Really, they absorbed a great deal and came back enthusiastic about that idea of changing the culture of PBHS,” Parry said. “I think they have a great shot at doing just that.”
Even though the event included a full agenda, the group was able to visit several museums and national landmarks such as the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, and two Smithsonian museums. They also met with a member of Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp’s staff at the Capitol. Attendance at the conference was paid by a federal grant obtained by the Marion County coalition under the direction of Marion County Families and Communities Together.
PBHS and Centre High School are the only two schools in the Marion County Substance Abuse Coalition.