March 20, 2015

Featured in: Saratogian

By Jennie Grey

Link for full story can be found at:

There’s learning by sitting still and listening to a lecture, and then there’s learning by creative participation. On March 19 more than 270 high school students from all grades donned hand-decorated tie-dyed school T-shirts and attended the 33rd Safe Spring Student Leadership Conference at Skidmore College. These students, from all 12 Saratoga County districts, learned by being a lively part of the day’s events.

Led by the Prevention Council of Saratoga County and sponsored by Saratoga County Stop DWI, the conference encourages students to make wise decisions, including staying sober while celebrating upcoming spring activities, such as the prom and graduation. AT&T also sponsored, calling attention to the It Can Wait public service campaign against texting while driving. An AT&T app called Drive Mode sends an “Out of office” message if a driver tries to text while travelling at more than 35 miles per hour.

This year, Safe Spring participants met and interacted with delegates from the Dover, N.H. Youth 2 Youth (Y2Y) alliance, a student-led initiative that focuses on preventing tobacco use, underage drinking and prescription drug abuse. Y2Y worked with its New York peers to provide engaging training sessions on youth advocacy and activism, pop culture, the media and interactive presentation skills, as well as opportunities to use these abilities in local Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) clubs to enhance their projects and activities that address community problems.

Margaret Carey, a Ballston Spa High School senior, attended the conference. She is president of her school’s 50-member National Coalition Building Initiative (NCBI) and introduced Y2Y before the keynote speech.

“NCBI supports diversity and encourages students to make good choices,” she said. “We also stand up to discrimination and cyberbullying, and break through stereotypes. I think we’ve especially helped students who are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer.”

She wore a tie-dyed Ballston Spa High group T-shirt with “You have an impact. Make it a good one,” printed on the back.

Carey’s group sets a good example, and motivates peers to use better coping mechanisms than alcohol and drugs. She said everyone was really happy to be at the conference.

“I’m going to the presentation skills workshop next,” she said. “I was nervous introducing Y2Y today — usually I’m fine speaking in front of large groups.”

Presentation Skills 101, directed by Y2Y college sophomore Maddie Retrosi and several others, showed students the skills needed to give a message with an impact. She discussed volume control and projection, speed control, animation of voice and animation of body, and she and Y2Y demonstrated what to do to capture your audience.

Then the student audience broke up into groups and practiced with various interesting scripts. One group had been given boat registration forms.

“Your vessel must clearly display its registration number from the state of New Hampshire,” one girl read aloud, with a swooping emphasis on “clearly” and “Hampshire.”

A session handout from the One Voice Youth Empowerment Toolkit Module 2B read, “One line, even one word, can be animated in hundreds of different ways — each time changing the mood or the meaning of the words.” The students used the suggested variations in emphasis, pitch, pauses, stretching words and speed to create more vivid presentations.

Tiffany Haig, a special education teacher at South Glens Falls High School, brought 30 students from three school clubs: SADD, Reconnecting Youth and Sources of Strength. She applauded their workshop presentation, smiling at the group’s dramatic reading from the dictionary, “Truth! The state of being the case; the body of real things, events and facts.”

“They (the students) have all been very enthusiastic about the conference,” she said.

Retrosi and the Y2Y members seemed as energized and enthusiastic as the students in the audience. Many of Y2Y’s crew have been doing this since sixth grade, when a student can first join.

“The organization teaches us so much,” she said. “For drug prevention, for example, we learn all there is to know about specific problems. While this Y2Y subgroup is here, another subgroup is researching and writing against marijuana legalization. We actually wrote a draft of a law against people smoking in cars with younger children there.”

A second workshop, run by five girls from Y2Y, focused on how pop culture and the media can influence young children and teenagers when it comes to underage drinking and drug use. Clips from popular TV programs such as “Two and a Half Men” and “Friends” showed main characters drinking and drunk, engaging in behaviour and remarks that made excessive drinking out to be harmless fun.

The Y2Y leaders handed out chocolate kisses to students who called out correct answers to questions about negative messages in pop culture media. An example was: “Having a hangover is a ‘badge of honor’ — something to be proud of. It is funny if someone has a hangover.”

The music videos showed, from rap to county, pictured plenty of drinking and drug use as well. The presenters had found that 15 of the top 25 iTunes songs contained drug references.

In the Saratoga Springs contingent, sophomore Noah Reynolds said he’d learned to consider more deeply how the media portrays alcohol and drug use.

“It was a good day,” said Tanner Tarkleson, also a Saratoga sophomore. “It helped me get out of my comfort zone and gave me the skills to get the prevention message out there.”