Yough 8th graders celebrate completing drug-alcohol prevention program
There was no “Pomp and Circumstance” playing Friday in the auditorium at Yough Intermediate School, but 150 eighth graders were just as excited about being the first local graduating class of the Project Alert drug and alcohol awareness program.
“Project Alert is a specialized, school-based prevention program for middle school students, which focuses on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and inhalant use. The main goals of the program are to prevent adolescent non-users from experimenting with drugs and to prevent youths who are already experimenting from becoming more regular users,” said Saint Vincent College Prevention Projects specialist Debora Babilya.
Beth Joseph, a manager with the prevention project, said the program started with seven 40-minute sessions on substance abuse in the seventh grade, three follow-up sessions in eighth grade, plus the graduation program.
Among those graduating was Joshua Denton, 14, who said he learned many lessons he can carry with him throughout life.
“If you do have an addiction problem, it’s better that you admit it right away and get the help you need,” Denton said.
Another eighth grader, Kylee Johnson, also 14, said the program taught students what they need to do if they ever do battle addiction.
“It let us know that there are a lot of people, including our teachers, principals and specialists, out there in the community willing to help,” Johnson said.
As part of the recognition of completing the program, students were awarded medallions and certificates and heard an address by former Seton-LaSalle High School football star and University of Pittsburgh football player Joe DelSardo.
He detailed his years-long battle with addiction that began with painkillers after he suffered an ankle injury on the way toward the Rebels 2002 WPIAL Class AA football championship. In addition to painkillers, he told the group he later abused cocaine and heroin during his years at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a wide receiver.
“There’s a lot of help out there today. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks about you,” he said.
DelSardo told the students he has been clean since June 25, 2007.
Babilya said the Project Alert program began nationally in 1984 and is based on an approach that helps motivate young people to avoid using drugs and teaches them the skills they need to understand and resist pro-drug social influences. The program uses small-group activities, question and answer sessions, role playing and the practice of new skills to stimulate students’ interest and participation in the curriculum, she said.
Project Alert was funded by the Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission.
Babilya and Yough Middle School Principal Kevin Smetak said the program is expected to be offered again next year.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .