Stinky situation: Students at the Julian Middle School forum on Monday cover their faces as they use plastic bottles to see how smoke can affect the lungs.TERRY DEAN/STAFF

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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