Keeping the smoke, drugs away from Oak Park kids

Fifth-graders and parents take part in middle school drug forum

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

It didn't take long for zipped up sweaters and jackets to cover their faces, and it wasn't because of Monday night's slightly chilly weather outside Percy Julian Middle School. Instead, these fifth-graders were mulling around with one hand over their noses and the other waving about. They were reacting to the thick smell of cigarette smoke that was wafting in the air. No, none of the kids were smoking. They were taking part in an experiment that shows just what smoking can do to the lungs.

The experiment was part of the parent and fifth-graders drug forum Monday at Julian, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave. More than 100 parents and kids showed up—with the students outnumbering the adults in attendance. This was the latest parent/kid café sponsored by the parent committee of the Citizens' Council. The Oak Park and River Forest High School community volunteer group has hosted such events since last fall. Monday's forum was the second event taking place this spring in the middle schools, the last one at in March at Gwendolyn Brooks.

Lisa Lowry, a parent committee member, and John Williams, director of Oak Park Township Youth Services, were the moderators Monday. The kids and their parents took part in several activities during the roughly 90-minute forum, including round table discussions. It was midway through the event that the kids went outside to conduct their smoking experiment. Meanwhile, Williams and other speakers talked with parents inside the Julian Commons about how to steer their kids away from drugs and alcohol.

Outside, adult facilitators helped with the experiment, involving placing a cigarette at the tip of a clear plastic bottle, lighting it and then squeezing the bottle to see it quickly fill with smoke. This, adults told the kids, is what smoking can do to your lungs.

They let the kids squeeze the bottles. Some squinted their eyes, covered their noses or turned away. Some zipped up their sweaters and jackets to cover almost their entire face as smoke filled the air. Inside the bottles were cotton balls. Afterward, the adults removed the now blackened cotton.

"This is what's happening to you lungs," one adult said.

"Ewwww!" the kids loudly responded.

Back inside the commons with all participants, the parents and students had one last activity, a "dilemma" story, as Williams described it. It was a not-so-fictitious tale involving a boy, Billy, who was at home after school one day with some friends. The boy's older brother shows up with his friends. The older kids went upstairs for a little while then came back downstairs not quite themselves. They had been smoking pot and drinking. One of the boys offers Billy's friend, Sam, a cigarette. A concerned Billy asks Sam not to go home. What should Sam do?

The parents and kids discussed the scenario in their roundtable talk. Responses varied from Sam should leave to Sam should tell his parents. At a table of mostly kids, one of the youngsters noted that such a situation is an "Uh-oh" moment.

"That's a great response," the adult facilitator at the table said. "When you get that uh-oh response kids, pay attention to it and know what to do, because that's what's happening with Billy."

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Former Julian MOM  

Posted: April 15th, 2011 12:36 AM

Great job to all! Kids are ready to learn and listen at a younger age. Empowering kids before the influences begin is crucial to their responses later. With continued education and community awareness in both districts, hopefully we can make a difference.

RunnerMom from River Forest  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 2:55 PM

Good job Oak Park. Keep up to conversation with our youngsters so we don't have the problem we currently have in the high school. I hope River Forest will offer something similar.


Posted: April 13th, 2011 12:52 PM

Way to go D97 and Dr. Roberts for actively participating in the teen alcohol and substance use discussion. Keep it up!

Don from Oak Park  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 12:22 PM

Very exciting to read about the large turnout and the dramatic visualization and the "real life" uh-oh situation. Our villages can confront these problems!

Sheila from River Forest  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 10:19 AM

Smoking is a turnoff to 5th graders. Since tobacco is a gateway drug, the black cotton and strong odor is a great way to demonstrate the downside. Thanks to all the volunteers for a great night!

Melissa from Parent Blog  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 9:51 AM

Terry, thanks for the excellent coverage on this event! I attended and watched parents and kids take steps towards drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention - they began talking.

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