A group of students from the Island Trees School District and the Levittown Public Schools have joined the Levittown Community Action Coalition (LCAC) in an attempt to help their peers get through difficult times.
About 30 students are involved in the coalition’s youth committee this year, teaming up with trained professionals from the Youth Environmental Services (YES) Community Counseling Center in Levittown. Their goal is to help their peers stay off drugs, keep away from alcohol and avoid vaping.
“I know many of the problems are taking place with people in their 30s and 40s, the education piece and caring about the community really means something,” Elizabeth Roemer, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Island Trees School District and member of LCAC, said. “We started bringing the kids in and we were hearing what their concerns were. They were very worried on vaping, and that’s why we focused all of our efforts on vaping last year.”
In December, the youth committee represented LCAC at the Nassau County’s District Attorney’s annual Youth Safety Conference. The opportunity was one the students certainly took advantage of.
“They were each so excited to participate and felt it was an honor to represent the (LCAC) coalition for all of Nassau and Suffolk County school staff and administrators in attendance,” Corinne Alba, director of prevention and outreach at YES, said. “The positive feedback and compliments that the students received from so many conference participants was overwhelming. We are so proud of them for their excellent and outstanding presentation about all of their accomplishments in preventing the onset and prevalence of substance abuse.”
The youth committee is part of a greater effort in Levittown to cope with the rising opioid crisis, as well as other drug-related issues.
“Since I have joined the LCAC, I’ve learned a lot about how everyone can make an impact, even students my age,” Gabriela Hiegel, an eighth-grader at the Island Trees Memorial Middle School, said.” I’ve participated in many different activities to promote anti-drug abuse and anti-vaping in our community and that’s shown me that anyone can participate in things like that to get their message across and make a difference. It’s also helped me to work better in groups because we did a lot of teamwork and team-related activities.”
Among the projects at Island Trees are working on includes a series of public service announcements. The staff at the school is trained, as of 2019, for the Too Good For Drugs after-school program. The program was created in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Education, helping creating a positive atmosphere for students.
“I saw what drugs were doing to the community and some of my close friends, so I wanted to find a way to get involved more,” Emilia Salazar, a ninth grader at Island Trees High School who started working with LCAC in the seventh grader, said. “It seemed like fate and a perfect fit for me. I never thought, as a freshman, I would speak to a room full of hundreds of adults and have the opportunity to do things I never thought I’d be able to do.”
The partnership with LCAC began with the Levittown Public Schools several years ago with a series of programs called Levittown Talks. Then, Island Trees joined by attending a forum three years ago about the opioid crisis.
The Levittown Public Schools and Island Trees School District are dedicated to stopping the opioid crisis. The administrations and social workers, along with the school districts, have created a youth subcommittee. The youth committee meets on a monthly basis, working to spread the message of how dangerous various drugs can be.
“It’s a great experience for them to have a voice and strike a nerve,” Roemer said. “The new campaign is to go back to the wellness and balance of it. We know people are turning to unhealthy alternatives, but what can we do to galvanize better choices.”