PALMDALE – With a dance off, karaoke and musical performance by local group “Twinfamous,” seventh graders at Juniper Intermediate School on Friday celebrated their commitment to staying away from alcohol and drugs.
“Don’t try it because you’re curious or your friends tell you to, walk away because it’s dangerous,” said seventh grader Asia Madden. “You will get addicted and you will die.”
Friday’s celebration marked the students’ completion of a rigorous 11-week intervention course aimed at reducing underage drinking, drug use and experimentation.
The course was part of the Prevention Education component of Pueblo y Salud, one of the 44 agencies funded by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department as part of a county-wide effort to reduce underage drinking and substance abuse.
The course targeted about 700 seventh graders living in the 93550 zip code – the area experiencing the worst alcohol and drug-related problems in Palmdale, said Prevention Project Director Xavier Flores.
“The kids are hungry for this kind of information,” Flores said. “They’re coming back to us telling us, ‘my cousin smokes, my mom and dad smoke, the people in the community that I know smoke.’”
“There’s a lot going on in their community and they’re being exposed to it, but they’re not being given the tools to understand what it is, what it can do to them, and what they can do to stay away,” Flores continued.
During the 11-week course, about 321 seventh graders from Juniper Intermediate School and 380 seventh graders from Desert Willow School learned about the effects of alcohol and drugs. Students were also taught skills to effectively limit their exposure to alcohol and illegal substances, said instructor Waunette Cullors.
The students watched educational movies, they participated in skits and they listened to a sheriff’s deputy who detailed the correlation between drugs, alcohol and crime, Cullors added.
At the conclusion of the course, each student took a pledge to remain alcohol and drug free.
“I learned that I shouldn’t try it because something bad could happen even from the first time,” said 12-year-old Arianna Minafee.
“You have to walk away from it,” said 12-year-old Rebbeccy Parks.
Friday afternoon, a portion of the 700 program participants attended the graduation celebration at Juniper Intermediate School, where they were given certificates of completion. The students also received “I Am Loved” pins, Cullors said.
“So that when someone offers them drugs and alcohol and they think about wanting to do it, they remember, I love you, your parents love you and we want the best for you, which is for you not to do it,” Cullors said.
Another graduation celebration will take place for Desert Willow participants next week, Cullors said.
Going forward, the graduates will merge into another Pueblo y Salud program called the Youth Prevention Council, Cullors said.
“These kids are going to take back their community and make a difference, cleaning up their communities from drugs and alcohol,” Cullors said.
“Palmdale Elementary School District needs to understand how important this type of information is for their children,” Flores said. “They must include it in their curriculum. Hopefully, we’ll do this one more year and then they’ll take over.”
To learn more about Pueblo y Salud, visit http://pys.org/.