In an effort to stop trouble before it starts, 100 adult and high school student volunteers came together to help with an “ounce of prevention” at the Drugstore Project event on May 16 for approximately 800 fifth and sixth graders in the school district.
Held at Fair Oaks Elementary School, the students were divided into 12 groups that rotated to different stations where various dramatic vignettes and speakers informed them about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and gangs.
“A prevention education program should be given to children at least two, if not three, years before they’re exposed to drugs, before students typically encounter peer pressure to abuse substances or join a gang,” said Kristi Rapinchuk, Director of Categorical Programs for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.
At the event, students were able to have a fly-on-the-wall view of the legal and health consequences of substance abuse through the role-playing of their peers. In each of the student groups, one student was discreetly pre-selected to play a role where he or she “stole” drugs, got arrested and booked into juvenile hall, were processed by the court, and met with probation officers. These student role-players also participated in party and emergency room skits – all as their peers watched.
Oakdale High School drama students were part of the “Party” vignette where a sixth grade student was in attendance.
The students were drinking “alcohol” and served it to the younger student. Later in the scene, a girl pulled out some pain killers she took from her grandmother’s medicine cabinet, which were then “given” to the younger student. Shortly, the student passed out and fell. As he lay unconscious on the sofa at the party, panic set in for the high school students and they called 911. Emergency medical technicians and the police arrived. The young student was hauled off on a stretcher in an ambulance and the high school student who was hosting the party was arrested, handcuffed, and put in the police car.
The fifth and sixth grade observers then made their way to the next tent where the rest of the story unfolded. The students sat gripped, some with their hands covering their mouths in shock, by the drama that played out before them in the vignette that was the “Emergency Room.”
Ray Leverett of Oak Valley Hospital filled the role of ER physician in the hospital scene, during which the medical staff was unable to save the student’s life. As the student was pronounced “dead,” Leverett then had to go to the boy’s mother to inform her. The mother wept and Leverett turned to address the students.
“A mother has lost her child. You have lost a classmate… He made a bad choice,” Leverett said to the students. “Trying drugs, experimenting with drugs, is a bad choice… It’s up to you to make good choices.”
He added that their choices don’t only affect them personally, their choices affect everyone and ultimately, the choice is up to them. He also said that if they make the poor choice of drinking and driving that they could go out and hurt someone, hurt themselves, and someone may get killed. Leverett then told them that they have the ability to make good choices.
Following the ER vignette, students attended the “funeral” of their classmate.
In yet another vignette, the “Pharmacy,” students were addressed by a Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agent who talked about “gateway” drugs. One student responded that gateway drugs “open the door to bigger and badder drugs.” The fifth and sixth graders then called out some of the gateway drugs they knew of such as marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs like Vicodin, over-the-counter drugs like cough syrup, hand sanitizer, and inhalants such as felt tip pens or correction fluid.
“With inhalants, you can do it once and it can kill you,” the SDEA agent said. “It stops communication between the brain and the lungs.”
The fifth and sixth graders were invited to look at the contraband collected by the DEA and were told not to touch anything. As students walked by to look at some of the paraphernalia, one student “stole” a pouch of methamphetamine and was “arrested.”
While some students were visibly stunned, others snickered. The drug enforcement agent chastised them and said their snickers were like saying it’s okay to use drugs or to steal drugs.
“Your classmate just got arrested for making a bad choice – for taking drugs off the table,” the SDEA agent said. “…People have to deal with the consequences for their actions.”
There were other stops the groups made as they toured their way through the Drugstore Project event. There was a gang awareness and prevention tent where the speaker gave them age appropriate information.
Fair Oaks Principal Stacey Aprile observed that the students were “rapt” at the event and said they really liked the static labs. These interactive stations included a water rescue station where emergency personnel addressed students about water safety and had students try on life jackets and other safety gear. There was also a mobile unit where students were able to try on some of the protective gear that drug agents use when entering illegal drug labs.
Along with volunteers who helped with coordination of the event, there were also many who donated time including a judge, a district attorney, a public defender, police officers, fire fighters, probation officers, drug enforcement agents, a pastor, hospital personnel, representatives from behavioral health services, and more.
“The Oakdale school district wouldn’t be able to hold an event of this magnitude without the donation of time and resources from the PTCs, PTA, county and local agencies, local businesses,” Rapinchuk appreciatively noted.
She reported that the event was paid for with grants, donations from the community, and also the donation of resources from the many agencies that participated. OJUSD administrative assistant Kim Leverett coordinated the event and Fair Oaks fourth grade teacher Lisa Graham coordinated the adult volunteers. Role players were elementary students Kyle Seese, Gabrielle Ceja, Dominick Dominguez, Ashley Cloward, Cameron Burke, Kelsey Cadwell, Yesenia Garcia, Santiago Miranda, Cole Liekhus, Caroline Hamilton, Lucas Ryun, and Cailie Rariden, as well as eight OHS drama students.