NASELLE - Austin Smith and Nicole Tarabochia from Naselle High School and five teens from Wahkiakum High School went to Phoenix, Ariz., July 24 through July 29 to attend the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America National Leadership Conference.

They met with more than 500 youth from across the country to build their skills in developing and implementing youth-focused prevention programs in order to foster effective community change. The seven students will make a presentation to the Naselle-Grays River Valley School Board Nov. 16 at 7 p.m., about what they learned and how they would like to implement their ideas. The teens, who are members of the Wahkiakum Community Network (WCN) youth board, presented their logic model framework for combating and preventing youth marijuana use in local communities at the Wahkiakum School Board meeting on Sept. 27.

Smith said, "It was cool and exciting to be with so many kids who were interested in helping solve their communities' problems. Everyone was heard at the conference. We decided making posters and letting our administration know if we thought there was a problem were good ways to be effective. Even though we were in classes six hours a day, it was fun to sit by the pool and relax in Arizona."

Tarabochia related, "We learned how to set up solutions for problems in our community. We decided marijuana use was the issue most important for our two schools. The speakers at the conference were inspirational. We were taught to solve one problem at a time and already I notice a lot of things I would not have seen before the conference. In Arizona I saw my first cactus and it was very warm, but the main thing is what I learned at the conference to help out here at Naselle."

At the conference the seven students drew a picture of their community to identify resources and risk factors. The group highlighted teen pregnancy and marijuana use as two significant risk factors. They chose marijuana use as their area of focus. They identified several reasons why marijuana usage occurs among local teens and said community members do not recognize marijuana use as dangerous.

At the Wahkiakum board meeting the youth explained that no one wants to turn in friends or classmates who use, people don't believe marijuana use is a high priority for law enforcement, and local growers make it very accessible to purchase. The youth developed strategies to solve the problem, including educating teachers about the symptoms of usage, setting up an anonymous teen tip line, using random locker checks, and implementing a closed campus policy.

WCN public relations coordinator Tammy Peterson encouraged the Wahkiakum school administration to send three staff members to training in Tacoma that would teach them to assess students to determine if there was a reasonable suspicion that a student was under the influence of drugs

Counselor Justin Laine at NHS said, "Nicole and Austin and several other students will be coordinating anti-substance abuse activities with Tara Finch. Our students coordinate a prom pledge where nearly everyone in the student body signed on last year to stay sober. We are also involved with activities WellSpring is putting on and with TATU (Teens against Tobacco Use)."

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