This wasn’t just a matter of choosing a topic for a project.
“With this project, we might save lives,” said Sam Jakubowski, an eighth-grader at .
This month, students in Marsha Crall’s eighth-grade social studies class will submit its solution to drug and alcohol use to Project Citizen, a program of the U.S. Department of Education that encourages kids to learn about and influence public policy.
Each year, students from Crall’s class develop a solution to a community issue to submit to Project Citizen. The class will attend regional hearings May 24 at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan.
“We don’t know if there is a state level this year due to elimination of funding,” said Crall.
Regardless, the students saw an opportunity to make a difference in an area that confronts even middle school students on a regular basis.
“I think this topic is important because a lot of the statistics are increasing. We need to approach kids at a younger age for prevention to create a safer environment for future high schoolers,” said eighth-grader Marissa Huggins.
Not Everybody's Doing It
The students’ presentation will focus on the consequences of drug and alcohol use from a legal, social and family perspective. Prior to their research, the students said they bought into the old lie that “everybody’s doing it.”
“You think everyone’s at parties drinking,” said eighth-grader Will Curtiss. “But now we know that even if your friends are doing it, most people really aren’t. So you can choose other friends.”
Curtiss said he was surprised by a statistic from the recent Illinois Youth Survey that noted 61 percent of students have been drug-free in the last month.
“I was surprised that there are so many students that don’t drink,” said Curtiss.
As part of the project, the students are developing an informational meeting for 10 fifth-grade classes to give peer-to-peer guidance to prevent alcohol and drug use. The presentation will take place the last week of May, after Memorial Day.
“We don’t want it to be a school thing,” said eighth-grader Jay Baker. “Younger kids lose their train of thought easily. We’ve thought of games to get the point across. One of them is ‘fumble fingers,’ where you do something simple like screwing a cap on a bottle, then try it again with really thick gloves. It shows how impaired you are on drugs.”
“The interactive games will stick,” added Curtiss, who explained another activity in which students will step over a line when statements that apply to them are announced.
The students are developing an action plan as they attend weekly Speak Up Coalition meetings, which focus on different community issues. They have attended the meetings since late February.
“In the meetings, we pick a problem and talk about it. Recently we talked about how we can decrease the use of marijuana in the future,” said Curtiss.
On March 20, the students presented their project at a panel discussion for drug and alcohol use in the community. Local professionals and community members presented at the meeting, giving a full picture of how substance abuse affects Lake County as a whole.
The presenters included Deborahanne Reimer, Tri-District student assistance coordinator, who provided a review of local statistics (grades 6‐12) and community strategies; Dr. Heather Hale, who spoke on “Identifying counseling and recovery supports"; and Judge Christopher Stride on “Reviewing Lake County legal considerations.”
“I thought it was a perfect opportunity to learn from the people who are in that fight every day. Each person who comes to the meetings has a different perspective,” said Baker. “There are parents and people involved in the community. It’s cool to be with public figures in your own town and do something for the community.”
Since working on the project, students said they feel more comfortable talking about drug and alcohol use with peers.
“I feel like we’re more educated on it, we can talk about it in a more casual way,” said Baker. “I have more confidence talking about it.”