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Gaston teens share truth about drugs, alcohol

Campaign - Tired of their school's hard-drinking reputation, five seniors and one junior aim to turn that around with facts
by: Courtesy illustration, A campaign poster advertises positive data about Gaston High.

A half-dozen Gaston High students are taking the old slogan 'be true to your school' to heart by mounting a protracted campaign to resurrect their school's positive image in the community.

They're doing it anonymously, but they're doing it nonetheless.

'Share the Truth,' a marketing effort that disseminates information about drug, alcohol and tobacco use on campus, kicked off last Wednesday during a morning assembly.

Students are using a $1,000 grant from the Washington County Commission on Children and Families to produce posters and direct mail pieces that share perceptions and truths about the targeted behaviors.

The information came from a 'social norms' survey that picked the brains of 139 GHS students last November. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed 'wanted others to know that drugs and alcohol are harmful,' said a student connected to the truth campaign.

Even the Gaston Market, where dozens of students go for lunch each weekday, got in on the action. Owner Elena Rasmussen agreed to affix colorful stickers, containing survey data, on hot deli items for sale there.

'We have an open campus for lunch,' explained a senior. 'Almost all our students go to the market, so they'll see the information.'

Principal Mike Durbin is thrilled with the effort so far.

'We now have data that supports our belief that most of our students are great kids who abstain from the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs,' he said.

Building blocks for the campaign were already in place when several football players got caught with alcohol at a party last fall and forfeited their right to play in the annual Homecoming game. Determined to put a shine on their school's tarnished reputation, students galvanized to get 'Share the Truth' off the ground.

One poster, which depicts youths in camoflauge gear, proclaims that '85 percent of Gaston High students choose not to drink alcohol when hanging out with friends.' Other data indicate that while many believe that 93 percent of GHS students smoke cigarettes, 88 percent actually consider themselves non-smokers.

For the teens behind the effort, it's a matter of Greyhound pride.

'People think everyone in our school drinks,' said one young woman. 'It'll be a long process to turn that around because we're fighting something that's been put in the minds of the community. But we want to do this for our school.'

Carol West, who has worked at Gaston Junior/Senior High for more than a decade as an academic mentor, said the most important goal is to 'prevent alcohol, drug and tobacco use in the future' by educating students, parents and community members about the realities.

The Gaston School District signed a contract last year with Youth Contact, a private nonprofit that serves Washington County, for on-site youth and family counseling services. Kristin Sanders, an expert in drug and alcohol prevention, has helped mentor the teens through 'Share the Truth.'

The new program 'has lots of potential to encourage kids to make healthy choices by sharing accurate information about what's happening in their peer group,' Sanders said.

All of the students aligned with 'Share the Truth' have younger siblings in Gaston schools. They'd like them to connect to the high school's slogan, 'Spirit, Pride, Unity.'

'They want to turn around attitudes and behaviors,' said West. 'And I believe they can.'