Pride is a national youth organization whose mission is to educate, promote, and support drug-free youth who organize to protect the safety and health of themselves, and their peers, family, and community. Twin Valley’s Pride chapter began in 2006 and has tackled issues from seatbelt usage by the student body to alcohol and drug abuse.
The secondhand smoke campaign began after Pride organizer Cindy Hayford, who has directed the group for 15 years, presented the group with a Vermont youth risk survey. It showed that 69% of the students in grades nine to 12 were in the same room as someone who was smoking within the last seven days, and 55% were in a car with someone who was smoking within the last seven days. “When I showed the students this they said we need to do something about this,” said Hayford.
Students in the group said they see their peers lighting up when they leave school and turn on their cars, “I think smoking is a problem here, and I think there is a big need for an anti-tobacco and alcohol abuse group,” said group member Christina Strysko. “Right now our goal is to educate other students on the damages of secondhand smoke.”
Last year the campaign began with the “I’m on board” model ship which students and faculty signed, pledging they would either abstain from smoking, or not smoke around others.
This year, with the help of Colby Dix, the self-described creative director of the group, students have started a media blitz that has included audio, video, and photography, as well as hand-held fans that declare “I’m a designated non-smoking area.” Most recently, Dix helped the students produce posters to place around the school depicting a student smoking with those around him in gas masks and hazmat suits. Each poster includes a math problem that is a clue to finding hidden prizes like T-shirts that advertise the campaign. Dix has also helped the group produce a video campaign they presented to the student body at assemblies.
“The biggest goal is education and creating a heightened awareness of the statistical issues and the real damages of being around secondhand smoke,” said Dix. “Looking at those statistics they really are some depressing numbers and I think that people forget or it becomes passe to become aware of it. The biggest idea we came up with was to put some intense images, slogans or videos out there that impress upon everyone.” Dix cites the diversity of Pride’s members as a key element to their success.
To Miranda Post, the campaign is about also setting a good example for her peers. “When people smoke around you, they’re not aware that secondhand smoke is a big deal or how bad it is. People that are around smokers should know that it’s affecting them, they can actually say something about it, and it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
The second part of the campaign will put the focus on parents as well as the student body with the “I’m Still Your Baby” slogan. “People won’t smoke around a baby,” explains Christine Rilly. “But they will smoke around an adolescent and there’s no difference. They’re still inhaling all the same chemicals the baby would.”
As part of the “I’m Still Your Baby” campaign, the group has sent students to the Statehouse to lobby for a bill that would make it illegal to smoke with children under 18 in the car. Group members Hank Sweeney and Maddie Howe attended a rally last year and were allowed to give a presentation to legislators about the bill. The group also attends the annual national Pride group workshops, as well as the World Drug Prevention conference.
The group is also looking at areas in the community where they can work on outlawing smoking, such as Town Hill, and Buzzy Towne Park. “When you’re talking secondhand smoke, that person really doesn’t have a choice in the matter,” said Dix. “In a lot of ways they’re an innocent bystander, especially in the case of a kid whose parent is driving them to school. They don’t even have an option to get out of the car or say no.”
Past campaigns by the group have included underage drinking awareness, and the sale of alcohol to minors. “We did two years of social norms campaigns around drinking after doing a survey that asked questions about drinking,” said Hayford. “The perception among students about their peers was that three-quarters of the student population drank alcohol within the last 30 days, while only 30% of students said they had drunk.”
This perception issue among the student body led to the “Audacious” campaign that emphasized two out of three TVHS students don’t drink alcohol. Group member Greg Edwards said “Be the Wall” was their slogan, meaning anyone can be the barrier between a child and alcohol.
Twin Valley’s Pride group writes grants to support their activities, which are sponsored by the Deerfield Valley Community Partnership as well as the Vermont Department of Health and Education. The group also gets contributions from the Deerfield Valley Rotary, the Masons, and year-round group fundraising.
Ultimately, the group’s work is to set the example for others. As Post explains “The people we hang out with are not smokers, and we try to set an example, and that’s a good way to show the student body that we’re not doing it and neither should they.”