High school students urged to take proactive stand against drugs, alcohol on campus

Joining forces this week to combat underage drinking and drug abuse were students determined to make a difference at their school. Middle and high schoolers from Lexington One and Lexington Two school districts danced it out at the Rise Above It Youth Leadership Summit, but they also got down to business.

“We want to spread the word that there’s a life (outside of alcohol and drugs),” Pelion High School junior René Duggins said.

The Rise Above It Community Coalition has been working locally for about five years to research trends in underage drug and alcohol usage, to connect people to resources and to equip students to share the “just say no” message effectively. The Youth Leadership Summit brought together students who are a part of Rise Above It clubs on campus in order to encourage them and give them time to work on an action plan for their school.

Local students talk about the problems facing their school. (photo by Rachel Ham)

Local students talk about the problems facing their school. (photo by Rachel Ham)

“We want them to show others how to be positive role models,” said Abby Wilson, Rise Above It Coalition program coordinator.

The Harvest Church in Lexington hosted the summit Monday and Tuesday. Wilson said attendance, with 130 middle schoolers and 80 high schoolers, was the highest yet.

Duggins said it was “very inspirational” to see how many other students cared about making a difference.

“It shows we are not alone,” Brookland-Cayce High School freshman Bethany Halter agreed.

Rallying the students once again was Eric Rowles, president and CEO of Leading to Change. Rowles is known nationwide as an expert on youth culture and substance abuse prevention.

“You were chosen because things are not perfect at your school,” Rowles said to the students in attendance.

Rowles urged students to get to the root of underage drinking and drug abuse when formulating their action plans and asked them to talk openly with their team about specific problems at their school. The students agreed peer pressure, the need for escape and curiosity are chief causes of underage drinking and drug abuse.

Halter said she does know of students who are involved with alcohol and drugs.

“It hurts you and how you act,” she said.

River Bluff High School freshman Austin Webber said he was prompted to join Rise Above It after hearing a report about people being killed by drunken drivers and other negative effects of underage drinking.

“I want to make a change,” he said.

Webber and fellow River Bluff High School freshman Collin Baker said they liked the interactive nature and fresh approach of Rise Above It.

“Instead of just telling people not to (drink or do drugs), we learn about giving them alternatives like clubs and activities,” Webber said.

Rowles also offered the students key leadership advice knowing they face an uphill battle.

“Leaders must stay positive,” Duggins said.

“We can inspire others to be leaders,” Halter added.

Baker said he was reminded that he has to break out of his circle and meet new people to have an opportunity to impact them.

“You have to take a chance first,” Webber agreed.

Rowles challenged the students “not to let the summit end today” but instead to work hard putting their plans and goals into action.

“Great leaders stay positive, take action and take a stand,” he said.

The Rise Above It Coalition is looking for community members and parents to join. More information can be found at RiseAboveItLexington.org.

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