SHERIDAN — More than 200 Sheridan Junior High students gathered in a school hallway on Tuesday to make a visual display of their commitment to abstain from all harmful and illegal chemical substances.
The Hands Off Drugs Program at the school is in its 13th year. The program encourages students to sign a pledge showing their intent to avoid drugs and alcohol in coming years and all students who participate, are invited to put their handprint on walls of the school’s entryway.
“I’ve signed the pledge since I was in sixth grade,” eighth-grader Stephanie Handley said. “I think it is really good to make a promise to yourself and a promise to others for everyone’s safety.”
“I’m signing the pledge because I think it is really important to me and my family so I don’t do any bad things and I can look back and it will make me feel good,” added seventh-grader Matthew Thompson.
The 235 participating students represent only about one-third of the eligible students who can participate. However, rather than using the statistic as a negative, school counselor Raili Emery said the low number actually shows the seriousness of the pledge and that real commitment is required on the part of the student to participate.
“Part of it is because of the process they have to go through,” Emery said about the seemingly low participation rate. “They can’t do it at the last minute. They meet in small groups with counselors and we talk more specifically about what the pledge means and what is expected of them. We are asking them to make a promise, some of them for as long as 10 years, so we really want them to understand what they are signing up for.”
Emery said students take pledge cards home over Thanksgiving and are asked to put it somewhere they see it frequently and thoughtfully consider if they actually want to make the commitment. After returning from Thanksgiving break, they have one week to commit to the pledge and turn in their cards.
“Some kids make this promise very personal and definitely want to do it,” she said. “But for some kids it makes no difference at all. And some sign up with every intention of following it but then they get in situations and make bad choices.”
However, Emery said even if students simply put off having that first drink or resist being pressured to take drugs, then the program is a success.
“The older they are before they have that first drink, the better off they are going to be,” she said. “So if this delays them from starting at all, it is a benefit. If it delays them until they are at least 21, then basically we have won with that kid.”