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Easthampton High School students host week of activities to raise awareness about teen drinking, drug use

  • Easthampton High School students Bethany DiRocco, 18, and Connor Gibbs, 17, sign a pledge wall in the cafeteria last week. The wall is part of Prevention Awareness Week. <br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Easthampton High School students Bethany DiRocco, 18, and Connor Gibbs, 17, sign a pledge wall in the cafeteria last week. The wall is part of Prevention Awareness Week.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A detail from Easthampton High School's pledge wall, which students worked on last week.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A detail from Easthampton High School's pledge wall, which students worked on last week.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Students who sign the pledge receive "Make The Right Choice" wristbands. <br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Students who sign the pledge receive "Make The Right Choice" wristbands.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton High School students Bethany DiRocco, 18, and Connor Gibbs, 17, sign a pledge wall in the cafeteria last week. The wall is part of Prevention Awareness Week. <br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • A detail from Easthampton High School's pledge wall, which students worked on last week.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Students who sign the pledge receive "Make The Right Choice" wristbands. <br/>SARAH CROSBY

EASTHAMPTON — The cafeteria at Easthampton High School was the site of an unusual conversation one morning last week.

As part of a series of activities planned for a schoolwide Prevention Awareness Week, students were holding an imaginary dialogue with a best friend named Chris who had begun drinking at parties.

“Our topic today is how we intervene and become empowered bystanders,” said workshop leader Karen Jacobus, coordinator of Health Education at Mount Holyoke College. “How would you like someone to speak to you if they had a concern?”

Ninth-grader Emily Baker began the conversation this way: “Chris, so I’ve noticed lately that every party we go to, you end up drinking and it worries me,” she wrote.

Students then approached the dialogue from Chris’s point of view.

In that role, Baker wrote, “Why are you so concerned? It’s not your life, it’s mine.”

The role-play was designed to help students feel less passive about intervening with friends and relatives, said Jacobus, who had three Mount Holyoke student peer educators helping her lead the workshop.

“Give me one action you will take away to be an empowered bystander,” she asked students, at the end of the session.

“Don’t drink,” said one boy.

“Approach people you care about,” added a classmate.

Prevention Week, which kicked off March 11, was hosted by the high school’s Students Against Drunk Driving group. Activities included workshops on how to prevent teen drinking, testimonials from EHS graduates and others affected by alcohol and drug use, and a final all-school assembly Tuesday on how to achieve well-being.

EHS Principal Vito Perrone said Prevention Week grew out of the school community’s sadness at learning that Vice Principal Ann Beauregard had been arrested last month on drunken driving charges in West Springfield.

Beauregard remains on paid leave until her case is decided in May in Hampden County court. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (second offense), a marked lanes violation and driving without a license.

Perrone said he wanted to find a way to help the school cope with the news about Beauregard. “So I approached the students for ideas,” he said.

EHS sophomore and SADD member Brian Delaney, said club members responded by suggesting a weeklong series of events that would “turn this into a positive experience and educate all groups.”

Under the theme “Make the Right Choices,” SADD members designed workshops and activities “talking about underage drinking and driving and for the underclassmen, talking about self confidence,” said Delaney who joined the club as a freshman.

They also tried to make Prevention Week fun. At today’s closing assembly, for example, winners of a contest to decorate classroom doors with positive messages will be announced. Students will receive gift certificates and will have their messages published in the Gazette.

At another of last week’s workshops, students gathered in the school’s Little Theater to hear from Jeremy Becker, a member of the EHS Class of 2007.

Becker told students about how he had been drinking on a night in 2008 when he asked his 18-year-old friend “J.J.” Dushane Jr., to go for a drive with him. Some hours later, Becker woke up in the hospital and learned Dushane had been killed in a car crash on Route 5 in Holyoke.

“He passed away in the car I was driving,” said Becker. He served a year of a 2½-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to charges of motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol, and reckless driving.

“That’s something I’ll always live with,” Becker said, to a room that had grown pin-drop quiet. “It’s a risk you take every time you get in a car drunk.”

EHS history teacher Brian Brown remembered having Becker in his classes.

“Jeremy’s a bright guy, he was popular and played sports,” Brown told students at last week’s gathering. “You never know who this will happen to, who will be affected.”

EHS health and physical education teacher Nancy Dunn, who advises the school’s SADD group, encouraged students to feel confident about handling tough issues like substance abuse.

Referring to a positive pledge wall in the cafeteria, she said, “Sign it and share some of the things you do well.”

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