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Safety & Discipline

Yough Intermediate Middle School event educates on drug, alcohol dangers

Jamie Martines
| Saturday, April 14, 2018, 7:09 p.m.
Yough School District will distribute about 150 pill pods, pictured here, to incoming kindergarten families in May 2018. The pods are big enough to fit about five prescription drug bottles and can only be opened with the right combination.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Yough School District will distribute about 150 pill pods, pictured here, to incoming kindergarten families in May 2018. The pods are big enough to fit about five prescription drug bottles and can only be opened with the right combination.
'Don't walk in their shoes,' the sign reads. The staircase in the lobby of Yough Intermediate School was lined with 193 pairs of shoes Thursday night. Each pair--many of which were donated by local residents--symbolized a person who died of an overdose in Westmoreland County in 2017. The exhibit was displayed during the district's fifth annual drug symposium April 12, 2018.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
'Don't walk in their shoes,' the sign reads. The staircase in the lobby of Yough Intermediate School was lined with 193 pairs of shoes Thursday night. Each pair--many of which were donated by local residents--symbolized a person who died of an overdose in Westmoreland County in 2017. The exhibit was displayed during the district's fifth annual drug symposium April 12, 2018.
'Don't walk in their shoes,' the sign reads. The staircase in the lobby of Yough Intermediate School was lined with 193 pairs of shoes Thursday night. Each pair--many of which were donated by local residents--symbolized a person who died of an overdose in Westmoreland County in 2017. The exhibit was displayed during the district's fifth annual drug symposium April 12, 2018.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
'Don't walk in their shoes,' the sign reads. The staircase in the lobby of Yough Intermediate School was lined with 193 pairs of shoes Thursday night. Each pair--many of which were donated by local residents--symbolized a person who died of an overdose in Westmoreland County in 2017. The exhibit was displayed during the district's fifth annual drug symposium April 12, 2018.
Shaina Stants, a 10th-grader at Yough High School, gives a presentation on the dangers of drunk driving during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Shaina Stants, a 10th-grader at Yough High School, gives a presentation on the dangers of drunk driving during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018.
Blake Uander, a seventh-grader at Yough Intermediate Middle School, takes notes during a presentation about drunk driving during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Blake Uander, a seventh-grader at Yough Intermediate Middle School, takes notes during a presentation about drunk driving during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018.
Blake Uander, a seventh-grader at Yough Intermediate Middle School, listens to a presentation about drunk driving during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Blake Uander, a seventh-grader at Yough Intermediate Middle School, listens to a presentation about drunk driving during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018.
'Don't be afraid to speak up,' said Jada Ford, a sixth-grader at Yough Intermediate School, in response to a question about what she learned during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018. The drug education and prevention event was attended by about 250 students and community members.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
'Don't be afraid to speak up,' said Jada Ford, a sixth-grader at Yough Intermediate School, in response to a question about what she learned during the Yough School District drug symposium on April 12, 2018. The drug education and prevention event was attended by about 250 students and community members.

Some were well-worn. Others were barely broken in. There were shiny red pumps and soft white slippers, clunky skateboarding sneakers and beach flip-flops.

The shoes that lined the staircase in the lobby of Yough Intermediate Middle School were the first thing many attending the district's fifth annual Drug Symposium saw upon entering the building Thursday night — a reminder of lives lost to overdoses throughout Westmoreland County in 2017.

“When you see them all, it's like each person would have walked in these shoes,” said Dorine Kozenchak, a parent in the district who coordinated the project with her daughter, Renah, an eighth-grader.

About 250 students, parents and community members attended the event. It consisted of several breakout sessions on topics ranging from statistics and trends and legal ramifications of drug use to stories of recovery. Organizations including the Sewickley and West Newton libraries, West Newton Pool, Yough Football, YMCA and Turkeytown Fire Department were present to share information about community activities.

“The more educated you are, the better off everyone will be,” Superintendent Janet Sardon told attendees.

About 3 percent of the county's record-setting 193 overdose deaths in 2017 took place inside the boundaries of Yough School District, Sardon said.

Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha estimates 2018 overdose deaths could be fewer than 120 if the current pace holds.

There have been 14 confirmed overdose deaths this year. Another 18 cases are pending as of April 11.

But Bacha, who presented on trends, demographics and costs of overdose deaths in the county, said those numbers were already out of date. His deputy texted him in between sessions, saying he was on his way to pick up another body in Latrobe.

Yough school board member Karl Spudy was in the session when Bacha read the text.

“I wouldn't want to be a kid growing up today,” Spudy said.

Student presenters also led sessions alongside local experts, giving them the chance to educate their peers, parents and other community attendees about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

All Yough High School students complete research projects about substance abuse in health class, health and physical education teacher Staci Roddy said. Those who presented Thursday had some of the best projects from the last two years, she said.

Student presenter Grace Luikart, a 10th-grader who presented on the overdose antidote naloxone, said she hopes the drug symposium was an opportunity to make students realize drugs aren't a joke.

“They don't really take talking about them seriously,” Luikart said, describing how some of her classmates react to drug-education events.

Alexa Cipra, a sophomore who presented on the dangers of drugs such as K2 and spice, said she wants to encourage parents to get educated about the drugs their children might be exposed to and to know what to look for.

Shaina Stants, a sophomore who presented on drunk driving, said talking to students about these issues more frequently and at a younger age could help.

“I think that everyone thinks they're invincible,” Stants said.

In an effort to reach students and families sooner, the district will distribute about 150 “pill pods” to each family that registers a kindergarten student in May, Sardon said. The devices, donated to the district by the Westmoreland County Drug and Alcohol Commission, are big enough to fit about five prescription pill bottles and are secured by a combination lock. The pods cannot be opened without entering the correct four-digit code.

The goal is to fight the opioid epidemic at the youngest age, Sardon said.

“Parents learn early, kids learn early, the importance of keeping medicines locked,” she said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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