DENHAM SPRINGS — Around 100 first- through fifth-grade students spent the last week in June learning life lessons through their participation in the fourth annual Livingston Parish Students Against Destructive Decisions Summer Camp at Gray’s Creek Elementary.

Veteran Denham Springs High School English teacher Elise LeBlanc, executive director of SADD, said the purpose of the camp is to educate children on the importance of learning about such things as: protecting their brains by teaching vehicle and bicycle safety; refusal tactics; internet safety; decision skills; prescription safety; and character development.

During the time the young students are at the camp, they are given information through age-specific group activities, role-plays, structured discussion, and an exploration of real-life topics, LeBlanc said.

At the heart of the camp is the involvement of high school students who serve as counselors and conduct the sessions in the classrooms reserved for the program.

“It’s a generational thing,” LeBlanc said, adding, “we are here to prepare young students for some of the dangers they might encounter through destructive decisions, we utilize the talents of some very enthusiastic and committed high school students, and we involve the parents and even some grandparents in our program.”

The high school students, under the tutelage of LeBlanc and Camp Director Dylan Ivy, are participants in SADD chapters at their schools: Denham Springs, Live Oak and Walker High Schools. The students are tutored throughout the year on how to impart to their younger counterparts the knowledge they have learned through involvement with their SADD chapters.

LeBlanc said SADD grew out of the more familiar Mothers Against Drunk Driving movement and the later Students Against Drunk Driving organizations. SADD takes a much broader approach at seeking to inspire young people to make proper decisions that can safeguard and enrich their lives, she said.

Ivy, a senior business management major at Southeastern Louisiana University, is an alumni of the Denham Springs High School SADD organization, Jackets Against Destructive Decisions, known as JADD. He said the lessons he learned from involvement in JADD in high school inspired him to become involved in the summer camps.

“It’s really fun, and personally fulfilling to work with the high school counselors and the elementary school pupils in such an important cause. The kids really get into this … they are like little sponges, they absorb all that we are trying to teach them,” Ivy said.

He said research shows that getting the message to youngsters about five or more years before they are more likely to encounter opportunities to make “destructive decisions” is very important. “If the young students learn the lessons about positive behavior now they are less likely to make destructive decisions in the future,” he said.

Ivy is quick to enumerate the things that the leaders and counselors are trying to teach at the camp. “Here’s some of the things that we will teach the campers … decision making skills, building productive relationships, learning respect for one’s self and others, proper use of the internet, the proper use of prescription medicines, how the central nervous system and the brain work, and how alcohol can affect the brain, the importance of protecting the brain … and we have fun.”

The camp’s well structured daily sessions are carefully planned so that the wealth of material offered during the five days are thoroughly covered, the leaders said. Each day’s agenda spells out what will be covered that day. For example, on the second day of the camp the following was on the agenda: “Today campers will learn about the human brain and its functions. First and second graders will cover the brain’s roles and importance; third through fifth graders will study the negative effects alcohol plays on the developing brain. The teens (counselors) will discuss growth and development and explain the difference between childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Both lessons are based on content that is age specific and appropriate. Lessons have been researched and proven to be successful.”

Each camp day is divided into four instruction periods that include an arts and crafts unit and a dance experience. At 11:45 a.m. camp participants report to the school’s gymnasium where they join in a session that highlights the lessons they have learned that day. This year’s theme, “Mission: Safety,” revolved around space exploration. The final session was called, “Launch Pad.” The counselors chose the theme.

At the camp’s Tuesday session, a number of the students shouted out what they learned that day when queried by Ivy. After some brief dancing and cheering, the day’s camp experience was over.

Those associated with the SADD camp had positive comments to offer about the program.

Laurie McCreary, a counselor, said the experience gave her peace of knowing “that kids are learning about safety and some other important lessons.

“I just love it … this shows that many young people are aware of the need to improve their lives and this is one way they can do that,” McCreary said.

Jessica Jones, a Spanish teacher at Denham Springs High School who was helping, said the campers learned how to be polite and respectful while at the same time getting important safety and other lessons.

“I think the younger kids see the counselors as role models and they are eager to learn from them,” Jones said.

Miller McCants, of Denham Springs, a fourth-grader and a veteran of several camps, was eager to share his take on time spent in the program. “I really enjoy being here,” he said. It’s fun and I am learning stuff I didn’t know. This is one of my favorite things to do during the summer. I just love it.”

LeBlanc said SADD camp was offered free of charge and welcomed all young students. She said Melissa Dougherty, the principal of Gray’s Creek Elementary, was most helpful by volunteering her school for the program.

“Offering the SADD camp is just a great way to get our students involved on every level,” LeBlanc said. “The camp benefits the participating grade school children, the high school counselors and the adults who volunteer. We feel like this is a very positive experience on several levels and we take a great deal of pride in doing this. The success of our camps is worth all the effort we put into it. It’s something we look forward to from year to year.”