Role-playing students face drug risks

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Seventh-grader Juana Sandoval sat in the defendant’s chair during a mock hearing for a minor consumption charge with Dubois Superior Court Judge Mark McConnell at Southridge Middle School in Huntingburg on Thursday. The Dubois County Public Heath Partnership sponsored “Truth and Consequences: The Choice Is Yours,” during which students participated in role-playing activities that educated them about substance abuse and the consequences it can have.

Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Dozens of seventh-graders put themselves in the shoes of substance abusers Thursday afternoon as part of a new program.

The seventh-grade class at Southridge Middle School was divided into nine groups, each with a different drug or alcohol use scenario. In one room, the kids imagined that they had stolen prescription pills from their grandparents. In another, they were caught smoking cigarettes on school property by a teacher. In a third, they vandalized the neighborhood while drunk with friends.

The event, dubbed “Truth and Consequences: The Choice Is Yours,” was first created by the University of Kentucky for its extension service. Recently, Purdue Extension-Dubois County was granted permission to pilot the program in a local school. The Dubois County Public Health Partnership sponsored the pilot Thursday.

Purdue Extension program assistant Ashlee Niehaus, who helped coordinate the activities, said that the role-playing workshop potentially could become available to all local middle and high schools, and administrators in each building would be able to choose which grade level to cater to.

“I think so far it’s been awesome,” Niehaus said. “I think it’s cool to see how everybody is coming together to do this.”

Partners from community organizations from throughout the area — including the probation office, the sheriff’s department, Southern Hills Counseling Center and Crisis Connection — volunteered to supervise, and 11 served as speakers who talked about consequences that could come from their scenarios.

In one room, students gathered to pretend they had consumed alcohol with friends at a festival, had been caught by their youth pastor and then were referred to the school counselor and hospital for help. Ben Johnson, a youth minister at Central Christian Church in Huntingburg, told them that if peer pressure becomes too much to handle, they always can find support in their church.

“With a ministry group, you get to know people who truly care about you because they care about not only what’s going to happen to you in this life, but even after this life,” he said. “That care can help you make the right decisions in the right times.”

Counselor Christine Vinson, who spends Tuesdays in the school speaking to students about various problems, visited next. She advised the students to find positive coping mechanisms instead of turning to alcohol or marijuana in times of stress. She said it is important to look out for each other as well and to get help for any friends who may be struggling.

“I would praise you if you came into my office being concerned about your friend. That’s a great thing,” she said. “My goal is just to let you guys come in and talk about anything you have going on.”

Seventh-grader Kabeyn Bailey said he and his friends are already on the right track to staying away from harmful substances.

“Last year, me and (a friend) actually vowed and kept a promise that no matter what happens, we’re never going to try drugs or cigarettes and stuff like that,” he told his group.

Terrell Price, who spent two months in jail after a drunken driving incident, talked about his personal trials and making the right choices. He had his first beer at age 14 and fell into alcohol abuse until he was finally arrested. He has been in the county’s work release program for the past six months.

“Next thing you know, it led to one problem and it led to another problem and now it’s still going through his whole entire life,” seventh-grader Robbie Bratley said after Price’s presentation.

Students received a sobering presentation from Vicki Stuffle, director of emergency services at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center. She brought supplies, including intubators and urine bags, that she sometimes has to use on children who get into trouble with alcohol or drugs. Stuffle told the story of a high school freshman who arrived at the hospital one day after having eaten 100 Tylenol on a dare.

“We see lots of issues with young people doing things that they wish they wouldn’t have,” she said.
When the role-playing was complete, the students assembled in the cafeteria to meet Kelly (Craig) Schaefer, of Jasper, a woman who knows firsthand about the more tragic effects of substance abuse. Schaefer was paralyzed in all four limbs when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a drunk driver in 1999. She can no longer shower or dress herself or style her own hair. When she arrives at her teaching job at Previous Blood School, she must type emails using a stick she holds in her mouth.

“Every day, it doesn’t get any easier. I’m thankful that I have a day,” she said. “But I still remember those days in seventh grade when I would wake up and go about my day with no restrictions.”

Kabeyn and his classmates came away from the event with new insights about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

“We shouldn’t do drugs,” he said. “There are certain groups and people that we can go to in case that happens to us or in case it happens to somebody else.”

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