Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 2:06 pm | Fair 68º


Letter to the Editor: To Be Most Effective, Alcohol and Drugs Education Must Be Elementary

My name is Linh Vuong and I’m a junior at San Marcos High School. I am part of the Friday Night Live Youth Coalition, a coalition in south Santa Barbara County focusing on changing social norms regarding drug and alcohol use and promoting a healthy lifestyle through community outreach.

This spring, we held our annual COMMITTED campaign in which adults, teens and kids pledge to live a healthy lifestyle and abstain from drugs and alcohol.

We did this in a few ways. Our school-based club planned and implemented a school-based campaign that included classrooms presentations, lunchtime activities and pledging sessions.

Then our coalition assisted the Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in planning CADA’s annual Town Hall meeting. The topic of this year’s Town Hall was underage drinking. We had a panel of experts speak to our guests, and as a coalition led table discussions among our guests. We had more than 150 parents, teens and community members attend!

Another component of our COMMITTED Campaign was our Swag Swap Campaign. Through observations, we found alcohol and drug references in advertisements and clothes (three out of five stores sold merchandise with references, 30 percent of Santa Barbara teens own clothes with drug and alcohol references). To combat this, we implemented our Swag Swap campaign on school campuses in Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and San Marcos high schools).

On certain days, all merchandise with drug and alcohol references — such as shirts, hats, socks, keychains, etc. — are swapped out with our own merchandise (hats, socks, stickers and a shirt with a Life is Sweet logo designed by a member of our coalition) for free.

Rather than donating the clothes we collected, as that would only put them back into our community, they will be recycled or used for an art project. In addition to the Swag Swap, we went to elementary schools to present to fifth- and sixth-graders in the A-OK program about the effects drugs and alcohol have.

We found many of the students already had a substantial amount of knowledge about the information we presented, more than I did when I was their age. There are many places they could have learned about it — their environment: media, the norms set around town, family.

I had learned alcohol existed at a young age from family events, but one source I believe is least likely is from school. In school, we aren’t educated on the effects drugs and alcohol have, or acknowledge the existence of them, until health class in ninth grade, or seventh-grade life science if it was part of the course.

By then, an opinion has been formed, and some are already using. By the eighth grade, 29.5 percent of adolescents have consumed alcohol, 15.5 percent have smoked cigarettes and 15 percent have used marijuana, according to the National Institute of Drugs and Alcohol.

However, I do commend the teachers who teach about them in ninth-grade health class or seventh-grade life science. I also commend the few teachers who have tried to implement it in elementary school, Friday Night Live for coming to A-OK, and for A-OK for allowing us to present.

I propose the Santa Barbara school board create a requirement that before leaving to junior high, fifth- and/or sixth-graders are taught about alcohol and drugs and the effects they have, both on a person and their social environment. Having learned this before, they can make an educated choice about what they do.

Each year, there is a theme that drives our campaign. Last year is speaking through photos. This year, it was education.

When it comes to drugs and alcohol, the expression “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” no longer applies as many adults hope when it comes to kids. Alcohol and drugs surround us: the norms set in family, glamorizing in media, appeals in advertisements.

Rather than waiting to educate us in high school, when we’re deemed mature enough to understand, educate us in elementary school, when we’re being exposed to that aspect in our society.

Linh Vuong
​San Marcos High School

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