There’s bad peer pressure, Jessica Apodaca said, and then there’s good peer pressure. That’s why students from 11 different schools (both public and private) in the city have formed Student Wellness Action Teams (SWAT), wherein student leaders talk to their peers about substance abuse, bullying, teen depression and other challenging issues facing youth today. Apodaca is a prevention specialist with Santa Fe Public Schools Office of Student Wellness. She and seven members of El Dorado Community School’s SWAT group showed up at Atalaya Elementary School last Thursday to present a trio of theatrical sits about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and poor eating habits.
The stage skits showed a sense of humor (“Paging Doctors Howard, Fine, and Howard!”), but also got the point across: Kids have to learn to make responsible choices for themselves while sometimes fending off the pressure from peers to do otherwise. One skit involved two disc jockeys on Radio Station SWAT taking calls from teens who were seeking advice on possible alcohol use. For instance, one girl asked the DJs if should she show up at a party where alcohol will be served and no adults will be present.
I was impressed with the seven El Dorado students’ acting talents and their commitment to their SWAT duties. (This is the initial year for El Dorado’s SWAT group.) El Dorado sixth-grader Cassandra Rogers said it’s important for youth to get involved in supporting other youth: “Every year, students make bad choices or get pressure from peers to do something bad. I’ve been in that situation. I want to help.”
El Dorado sixth-grader Che Muller said he is tired of alcohol and tobacco companies making money off dead people. “Smoking stinks really bad. So does alcohol. I don’t like the smell,” he said. Incidentally, I asked him if I should place an accent over the “e” in Che. “In Spain there is an accent, but not here,” he replied.
El Dorado seventh-grader Lydia Tetreault-Saez said, “At this time in the world, you can feel helpless. But joining SWAT makes me feel like I can do something. It’s not just adults who can do something.”
The El Dorado SWAT team is close to 20 members strong. The seven who performed the skit rehearsed once a week for several weeks to prepare. The presentation took about 30 minutes, and then Apodaca opened up the floor to questions from the Atalaya kids.
Those fifth- and sixth-graders from Atalaya fired away with questions and comments for at least another half-hour, asking about statistics regarding alcoholism and drug use among kids their age and adults. One girl asked in a concerned voice whether the glass of white wine her mom was drinking every night was going to cause trouble. Another said she has a 17-year-old cousin who drinks. “And when she does, she goes crazy,” the girl said. Another girl said her mom was addicted to painkillers and asked how she could help her.
Atalaya counselor Cynthia Fulreader and El Dorado school nurse Kathy Lenihan were present, and they and Apodaca continually emphasized that the kids can and should turn to them and other trust adults for guidance and help. I was pretty amazed by the respect the Atalaya kids gave their El Dorado visitors and the adults in the room. I asked the Atalaya students if they appreciated the way the El Dorado kids imparted life skills (self-control, taking responsibility, good decision-making), and a good two-thirds raised their hands in affirmation.
One confident Atalaya sixth-grader, Busayo Bird-Maqubela (the first name is Nigerian; the last name is South African, he stressed), said it’s more engaging to see a lesson performed in play format rather than watching a documentary on substance abuse in class. El Dorado sixth-grader Allison Longo echoed that view: “The skits are a good way to connect to kids without having them hear a lecture.”
The other participating El Dorado SWAT students were Jeremy Gonzales, Lily Morris-Wright and Arly Garcia. El Dorado Community School should be proud of them all.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.