TMS students push breath of fresh air

Mar. 28—Tahlequah Middle School students participated in the "Catch My Breath" campaign to put a stop to vaping.

Dan Vivion, TMS life skills preventionist, said that in his class, they discuss and dive into vape prevention one week each quarter.

"What we're trying to do is get students to know how bad [vaping] is for you before they ever pick one up and try it," said Vivion.

Sonya Davidson, a preventionist with Tahlequah BEST Community Coalition, said she and Desirae Bloomer, TPS prevention specialist, work with Vivion on the program, which has been implemented in the TMS life skills class for two years.

The trio takes three days and has students watch informational videos, discuss vaping, and look at other prevention-related resources. Vivion said the last two days of the program require students to create an anti-vaping media campaign.

Davidson that said in the past, they have taken select students' artwork and placed it on the billboard by Walmart.

"This round of students created some small postcards," said Davidson. "So they had their anti-vaping campaign messaging on the front, then they had some resources for cessation on the back."

Davidson said each grade submitted their art, which was voted on by Tahlequah BEST Community Coalition board members.

A $25 gift card to Emery's Grill was awarded to each winner, which includes sixth-grader Jovanni Gutierrez Lopez, seventh-grader Hayden Hendricks, and eighth-grader Alex Garcia.

Davidson said she believes incorporating art into the program gives students the ability to be creative, which can also reach their peers.

"Some of the other classes we have done this with, their stuff is displayed throughout the hall in the school, so their peers can see it," said Davidson. "It's just a reminder that not everyone is vaping, and it's not good for your health."

Vivion said roughly 360 students go through the program each year, with the campaign being directed toward sixth- through eighth-grade students.

"I think any chance we can give a student the chance to be creative and work toward something as letting the community know that it's bad for you," said Vivion. "It sets with them even more than just telling them not to do it."

Tanya Jones, Tahlequah Public Schools superintendent, said TPS wants to prevent students from starting the habit of vaping and help those who are already addicted.

Jones said they start even earlier than middle school by initiating the conversation about choices and drug prevention with fourth- and fifth-graders.

"We want to get them before they get so addicted to a substance they can't change and students younger and younger try things, such as that and young students can get addicted to those substances just like an older student or an adult," said Jones. "I can just imagine if you start something like that at a sixth-grade age what will you be trying in the eighth, ninth, and so on."