For the discerning child, the type who asks why, "Just Say No” was always a stretch.
The Drug Store program aims to go several steps beyond that simple statement, answering several questions youngsters might come up with about illegal substances.
For instance, what happens if I get caught with drugs? What will the police do? What is court like? How will my parents react? Will I get sick?
Can I die?
hosted the Coronado SAFE group Thursday, which exposed up to 300 sixth graders from the community to detailed and sometimes graphic demonstrations of what drug experimentation can lead to, whether it's a cell, a courtroom or a casket.
Organizers selected eight students – and at least one of each of their parents – to act out a bit of a secular Stations of the Cross. The scenes, set up in classrooms throughout the campus and staffed by professionals from all levels of law enforcement, depicted:
- A drug assembly where a student steals one of the confiscated drugs on display, only to be caught and arrested.
- The police-intake process and a courtroom, with a real judge, where the youngster received court supervision, classes and counseling rather than being sent to juvenile hall.
- A party and an emergency room, where doctors labor – and fail – to save the student in question after his sips a spiked drink at a party and collapses.
Eight groups of students cycled through the stations watching the scripted misfortunes that befell their peers. Mason Farley, 12, one of the actors, said he was sure his classmates believed the scenario early on, when a Drug Enforcement Agency official called him out and Coronado officers took him into custody.
“It was just like, weird to get arrested and die the same day,” he said.
The demonstration, which originated at an Alabama school and now is used in classrooms across the country, calls for real parents to join the young actor in the courtroom, counseling and hospital scenes.
Trish and Jason Ashman did so, and cried full tilt when their son, Connor, “died.”
“We were bawling,” said Trish, a teacher. “From my point of view you couldn't not cry.”
Connor sensed their pain too, suddenly feeling a responsibility to make sure he doesn't “leave this world soon.”
Andrea Webster, executive director of , said parents and youngsters who participate in the lesson together have the greatest bond coming out of the Drug Store experience. The program – which takes its title from the nickname of the notorious and drug-ridden campus where it began – is in its ninth year in the community.
The understanding varies among the rest of the sixth graders. Some appeared somber and chastened early on – the DEA official flatly answered yes when one of the students asked if Farley's “arrest” was real.
“It took me a while to figure out it was fake,” said Sophie Tioilo, 11.
There was a debriefing though, and the youngsters shared what it would be like to see someone they care for die in such a situation, while adults also quizzed them about what they would do if they were confronted with the types of situations that happened to Mason, Connor and their fellow actors.
“If you didn't take drugs in the first place, it would never happen,” said Joey Simon, 12.
So it comes back to “Just Say No,” in a way, only with the students coming to the conclusion themselves.