Woodward Talk: Congressman hears it straight from the source

Mar 31, 2006

(FERNDALE)- When addressing the issue of drug and alcohol abuse among today's youth, who better to help research the topic than teenagers themselves?

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, visited Ferndale High School last week and sat down with a group of students to discuss ways to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and raise awareness throughout communities.

The visit was a part of Levin's efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives to restore funding for the national Safe and Drug Free Schools program, the state grant portion of which has been cut according to President George W. Bush's budget proposal for 2007.

This program, according to Kristofer Eisenla, Levin's communication director, is the federal government's primary initiative to prevent drug use in and around schools. Grants provide financial assistance for drug and violence prevention activities, as well as activities that promote the health and well-being of students in elementary and secondary schools.

Coolidge Intermediate School Principal Gail Snoddy spoke to Levin about her school's peer mediation program.

"'Just Say No' is an oversimplification," Snoddy said. "We need to give students strategies to avoid (violence, drugs and alcohol). We need to teach them early to make these decisions themselves."

Ferndale Middle School's STAND group, (Students Taking a New Direction), had much to say to Levin regarding the importance of this issue.

"There's a lot of people who have parties and do (drugs and drink),"said eighth-grader Le'Yandria Murray. 'There are some people who just don't care. But there's more to life than things like that. If you don't start, you can't get addicted."

STAND is organized through the help of advisor Shannon Weimer, who helps promote the benefits of doing activities that don't involve drugs or alcohol, but can still be fun.

The school recently held a drug-free poster contest, in which 600 posters were submitted. The posters were displayed in the entry hall of the middle school to serve as a reminder to students the importance of making the right decisions.

Last week was all about spirit, a campaign led by STAND. Monday was hat day, Tuesday was sports day, Wednesday was twin day, Thursday was formal dress day, and Friday was school pride day.

"We like to give them something exciting to focus on," Weimer said.

With April being Alcohol Awareness Month, a 12-foot banner will hang in the school with ideas of what students can do over spring break other than drinking and using drugs.

Ferndale High School students who are a part of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) didn't have to tell Levin much about their recent successful event, SAFE Night. He was in attendance during the November 2005 blow-out.

"I expected around 100 kids to show up, but there was like 600," said senior Patrick Dewan.

"We wanted a place where students could come and have fun without drugs and alcohol, and also learn about what drugs and alcohol can do to you," said senior Abby Ashmore.

Through teary eyes, senior Erin Furze was able to explain exactly what drugs can do to you. She told Levin about a 15-year-old friend of hers who died of a drug overdose. Seeing his body in a coffin is what led her to get involved with SADD, she said.

And that is what makes these programs so vital, Levin said.

"We're in there fighting for them," he told the group. "If we can't continue to support the kinds of programs that are exemplified in this school, then our priorities are way out of whack."

School and community dignitaries were in attendance at the meeting, including Ferndale Mayor Robert Porter, Charter Township of Royal Oak Supervisor William Morgan, Ferndale City Council member Tomiko Gumbleton, Ferndale Public Schools Superintendent Gary Meier, Michigan Drug Free Schools Grant Advisor Lee Rockefeller, and representatives from the Southeast Coalition, Chris Dewan and Donnis Reese.