Striving to stay off drugs and alcohol | SierraSun.com

Striving to stay off drugs and alcohol

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun

Kara Fox/Sierra SunStudents at North Tahoe Middle School signed a pledge last week to stay drug- and alcohol-free.

There are a number of reasons why children stay off drugs and alcohol.

North Tahoe Middle School eighth-grader Holly Packard thinks “it’s selfish” to abuse substances, while eighth-grader Tara Turpin believes fun can be had without drugs and alcohol and doesn’t want to disappoint herself. For Sandra Gallaga, it’s all about family.

“I want my brother and sister to look up to me,” the 14-year-old Gallaga said.

Melinda Maehler, Placer County community services officer, is happy to hear all the reasons why teens make positive choices and runs programs at North Tahoe schools to keep those students on the right path.

“It used to be out there that kids were bragging about doing this and that, and now it is going underground,” Maehler said. “What I’m seeing now is more parents not scared to say, ‘I don’t care if I’m alone anymore. It’s no in my house.’ Before they were quiet and now they’re not.”

This school year, Maehler is stepping up drug and alcohol education and outreach at North Tahoe Middle School, noting that she has seen students in the past start drugs at a young age and continue through high school. She said instilling values in students at a young age is important.

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“I’m really hoping to get sixth, seventh and eighth graders involved in the future. It’s like a pyramid,” Maehler said. “You start a base and keep going so that by senior year their base is strong and they are ready when they are out of here.”

For Red Ribbon Week, a nation-wide program held last week to encourage students to stay off drugs and alcohol, Maehler involved all 290 North Tahoe Middle School students by having them sign a pledge to stay drug free and to have all homeroom classes make posters that were taped into a quilt. For the first time, the pledge will be laminated and posted at the entrance of the school for the entire year. Maehler will also make sure those students keep their commitment throughout the school year.

“Every kid that walked away from that poster felt strong,” Maehler said. “Will they feel like that in a few years? I don’t know. That’s why we have to keep reinforcing and patting them on the back.”

This will also be the first year that Maehler includes eighth graders in the Youth In Action program, which historically has included only high school students. Youth In Action includes a group of students “coming together to work with adults” to run programs that are drug- and alcohol-free, according to Maehler.

Youth In Action students handle Peer Court and Shattered Dreams, as well as other activities, Maehler said. The middle school Youth In Action members will help Maehler teach elementary students about safety this spring. A drug- and alcohol-free dance will also be held, as well as the students traveling to Louisiana next summer for a conference. In the spring, the students will also visit Sacramento for the first time to get a law passed to prevent underage drunk driving.

“Most youth alcohol-related laws are made because someone lost a child,” Maehler noted. “I would like the youth to spearhead this.”

But Maehler points out that none of the programs she runs could be done without the students’ interest. She has noticed the tide change throughout the years to the point where students are eager to participate. Her goal is to include students when they are young, like Nick Koenig, who will participate in Youth In Action this year.

For Koenig, a 13-year-old North Tahoe Middle School eighth grader, the reason to be involved is easy: “I don’t want people to get into drugs and alcohol.”