SAGA, short for Substance Awareness Greater Anderson, is a local coalition with a goal of educating and uniting the Anderson community on preventing the use of illegal drugs. The Youth Summit is an annual event that brings together local students from Anderson, Turpin, and McNicholas to discuss the growing issue of drug abuse in teen culture. Spanish teacher Kyle Jepson who coordinated the event for McNicholas said it’s a good opportunity for the students to share their opinions and possible solutions to the issues.
“It’s not often we ask students for their opinions, and I think we should ask them more often,” Jepson said. “It’s important that their voices are heard.”
Jepson explained that this conference is unique because any student in the school could be chosen to attend. He used an online number generator to randomly create five digit numbers that then coincide with the five digit student codes. “Whatever number comes up, that’s the student who goes. It’s completely random,” Jepson said. “Students who aren’t normally chosen for conferences get a chance to lead and discuss their ideas.”
At the conference, the students from all three schools split up into small groups and discussed issues like alcohol, drugs (specifically marijuana), and the role of social media in these topics. Then each group created a presentation to share their ideas with the rest of the conference. Multiple students said it was an eye-opening experience.
“I was shocked by the amount of hard drug abuse that’s going on,” said senior Sam Becker.
Junior Melissa Scheidler said she was surprised by how many students openly dislike this drug abuse problem. “I think what hit me was the amount of kids who hated all the drugs and alcohol [use] going on in their school.”
Christy Berning, the Director of Admissions at McNicholas, accompanied the students to the conference. She said the best part of the event was that the students were able to be leaders and be heard.
“The key to SAGA is that it is an opportunity for the leaders in the community to hear from the students,” said Berning. “Instead of talking at them, we are hearing from them.”
The students agreed that getting to share their views was one of their favorite parts. “It was cool that the leaders let us say want we wanted to and respected our opinions,” said Becker. “As students we can see what’s going on in our schools, and they didn’t challenge our opinions.”
Junior Raven York said that after this experience she was really thankful for the values she’s learned at McNick about making good decisions and doing what is right. “There are many consequences [to doing drugs] that we may not see a teenagers. Just because the ‘cool’ kids drink and do drugs doesn’t mean that we have to. We run our own lives for ourselves and for no one else.”