DENHAM SPRINGS — Members of Livingston Parish Students Against Destructive Decisions spent the week changing lives — or at least that’s what they aimed to do — while advising younger students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
The members were counselors during a weeklong safety and prevention camp called Protecting You/Protecting Me sponsored by Livingston Students Against Destructive Decisions. The camp, for youths in kindergarten through fifth grades, is led by trained high school students who pledge to be alcohol-, tobacco- and drug-free, said Dylan Ivy, a member of Livingston SADD and camp organizer.
The theme for the second annual camp was “Saddle Up, Protect Yourself.”
The JADD students taught the children about the risks of alcohol exposure to the developing brain, vehicle safety, health, personal safety, communication skills, media awareness and the importance of protecting themselves by making good choices, said Protecting You/Protecting Me Program Developer Kappie Bliss, of Park City, Utah.
“My favorite part was learning how to become ladies and gentlemen,” said Mackenzie Pierron, 10, of Walker, adding that she learned a new set of manners during the camp. She also learned how to deal with stress by squeezing stress balls, how to read warning labels on prescription medicines and why to steer clear of illegal drugs.
“The warning labels are very important,” Mackenzie said. “Listen to them. Some tell you not to drink (alcohol while taking that medicine).”
The group of friends — which included Destiny Wright, 10, of Denham Springs, and Madison Jones, 11, of Walker — said they also learned about bullying.
Protecting You/Protecting Me started in 2001 and is MADD’s latest nationwide effort, now in conjunction with State Farm Insurance, to prevent alcohol use by youth.
“Previous research shows that we must start talking about the dangers of underage drinking five years before they start,” Bliss said. In Louisiana, statistics show that some youngsters begin drinking between ages 11 and 12, she said.
The program, Bliss said, was created to talk to children about the risks of drinking before they have fully shaped their attitudes and opinions about alcohol use.
The curriculum provides a series of 40 lessons — eight lessons each for grades kindergarten through fifth that include group activities, role playing, structured discussions and parent involvement. While the lessons are designed to be infused into a school’s core curriculum, the summer camp addresses information that often can’t fit into a school’s already tight curriculum.
The course, Bliss said, which has now been taught in 48 states, Puerto Rico and Sweden, has been recognized as a model program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
PY/PM also is included in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices and has been endorsed by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Bliss said.