High school students are faced with a multitude of decisions on a daily basis, from how to wear their hair to what shirt looks best with which pair of pants to whether to give in to the temptation and altered reality that drugs and alcohol have to offer.
In an attempt to provide additional education to students at Cambridge-Isanti High School, Chemical Health Specialist Charity Allen, with the support of school administration, enlisted the help of an organization called Know the Truth on Jan. 10.
“I went to a community showing of Know the Truth about a year and a half ago. After seeing that presentation, I knew it was something that our youth would benefit from hearing,” Allen said. “Last January Know the Truth came and spoke, and it was a great turn out. We were able to get about two-thirds of the students to go. This year, were able to have all four grades participate. The goal was to get the latest education out to our students and to let them hear from other young adults about their struggle with addiction and the hope of recovery.
“Through the use of evidence-based, interactive learning, Know the Truth prevention advocates engage and educate students to increase their awareness of the physical, emotional, and intellectual dangers of drug and alcohol use. Having a young adult speak the honest truth about the life of addiction can be a powerful thing. I also like that the speakers discuss triggers of using, high-risk situations and helpful tools to stay sober,” Allen added.
It’s the personal stories from the speakers that makes all the difference, agrees Principal Steve Gibbs.
“I think whenever we share personal experiences with our students we provide them an opportunity to see how choices impact one’s life. The speakers shared how their choices made a significant impact on their lives and how hard they had to work to overcome the consequences of those choices,” Gibbs said. “I think that we need to provide high-level, relevant educational opportunities to allow students to understand the impact of their choices. We also need to be prepared to support and teach when students fail to make positive choices. We know that many, including ourselves, have learned incredible lessons through both educational experiences and through failure. It is through both opportunities our students feel cared for and supported as a whole person.”
For the presenters, as well as students who are able to participate in the presentation, the ability to share their stories as well as hear first-hand experiences has impact.
Micah Meline, one of the presenters at the Jan. 10 event, shared his childhood story of being born to a 14-year-old mother who wasn’t ready for the task, so as a newborn he was abandoned at the hospital, and throughout his childhood he struggled with acceptance.
“I was adopted by a loving family and for the first few years I didn’t know I was any different than the other kids around me. My parents tried to help me feel as normal as possible and encouraged me to play sports. I had the dream to become a professional baseball player when I got older,” Meline said. “That dream would go away as I started using drugs.”
It was in kindergarten when Meline began to feel like he didn’t belong to his family, and as he grew up he began to seek out acceptance from kids older than him, which ended up to be his sinking point in life.
“I searched for my acceptance in older friends, which led me to try substances to fit in. I started with cigarettes, which lead to marijuana and then cocaine and eventually meth and heroin,” Meline said. “I gave up my dream of being a pro baseball player and eventually my addiction brought me to trying to end my life.”
At Meline’s lowest point he found Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, where he went to find hope.
“When I entered into Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, I had no goals for my future except to learn how to live sober. While I was in the program I was able to go out with Know The Truth and speak to students about my choices to use drugs and alcohol, and this is something I found I truly love doing,” Meline said. “After graduation I became program staff in the house I graduated from and then I was hired to work for Know The Truth full time.
“This job has allowed me to use my story of how I said yes to drugs and alcohol to show kids the reality and consequences if they decide to use drugs or alcohol like I chose to. I finally feel my life has a purpose and I truly love my job,” Meline added.
Meline’s story, as well as that of another presenter, provided students with insight they may never have been able to gain otherwise. For sophomore Kaitlyn Bohman, the presentation was one she will take with her into the future.
“I feel it was a good presentation with good intentions, trying to reach out to young people and show them the truth,” Bohman said. “Hearing their stories on how they battled their own addictions helps justify why I choose not to involve myself in that sort of life. I think it’s a good idea for the program to come out to school like that and teach young students who may be starting to involve themselves in drugs to realize what it could do to their lives and how it could affect them, those around them and their future.”
While sharing his story hasn’t always been easy, Meline’s reasons for doing so are to impact students like Bohman and her classmates.
“I feel it’s important to allow younger students see the reality of what addiction can bring. I like to allow them to see into my past and hear of the realities of addiction that they may not realize can happen to them. I hope that they in turn see the dangers of saying yes and choosing to choose to make better choices than I did when I was their age,” Meline said.
As youth, whether the exposure comes from hanging out with friends, being in school, being at an event or out in the community, the temptation of drugs and alcohol is becoming more prevalent, according to School Resource Officer Jenni Caulk.
“I absolutely believe educating kids about drugs, alcohol, and addiction is necessary. With our kids having unlimited access to information on the internet, they are being exposed to things we never even imagined when we were kids. Not only that, but these kids are growing up in a world where marijuana has been legalized in a lot of the country, street drugs are everywhere and vaping is an epidemic. Kids have much more access to all these substances, so it is important that we as a community try to counteract what they are being exposed to by educating them on the risks,” Caulk said. “Unfortunately with the easy access kids have to substances, we as parents need to be vigilant in monitoring our kids’ activities. Kids can end up in way over their heads very quickly and not know where to turn. They can withdraw from friends and family and stop caring about school very quickly.
“I have been an SRO in Cambridge-Isanti Schools since January of 2015. Since I started the biggest issue I have seen to this point is the vaping epidemic. Younger and younger kids are showing up at our buildings with vaping devices they have obtained from parents, older siblings, or purchased from other kids. Kids do not understand the dangers of the devices and the substances they are ingesting,” Caulk added.
In addition to providing education within the schools, there are also things that can be done at home, according to Caulk.
“Parents, please talk to your children about vaping, alcohol and drug use. Know what your kids are doing on their phones and with their friends. Know their friends and what kind of people they are. Keep the lines of communication open, so if they need help they can come to you. Kids need parents to set boundaries and show they care,” Caulk said.