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Learning To 'Just Say No'

Acting as role models, Herndon High School leadership students teach younger students about handling peer pressure.

Herndon High School leadership students used peer pressure to their advantage March 13 when meeting with approximately 40 students from seven area schools — the majority being fifth and sixth graders.

Trying to keep the attention of the elementary and middle school aged children, the high school students created a number of ice-breaking activities and skits to help the students "warm up" before hitting them hard with discussions about drugs and alcohol, cheating on tests, dating and bullying students.

"I just think it is good for the kids at the elementary school and middle school to see high school kids talking about ways to get around peer pressure," Herndon High junior Charnele Bazeove said.

Called the Peer-A-Mid Summit, the event was organized by the Herndon High School student government association in collaboration with the Greater Herndon Community Coalition. The high school leadership class invited the leadership students at Herndon High's feeder schools to attend the two-hour event. The schools include Aldrin Elementary, Armstrong Elementary, Clearview Elementary, Dranesville Elementary, Herndon Elementary, Hutchison Elementary and Herndon Middle.

"IT'S IMPORTANT because a lot of these topics are things they are going to deal with in the future and in high school," said Delia Racines, Herndon Middle School student council association advisor. "Some of them are dealing with these things now."

Racines brought five of her students to the event, which was held in the high school's cafeteria. After completing the summit, Racines plans to have the students present the information they learned to their peers in the civics class, she said.

Nathan Herendeen, counselor at Clearview and Aldrin Elementary School, planned to have his students do similar presentations to their peers, he said.

"We want to give them an opportunity to understand just what they might be doing when they get to middle school and high school," he said about why they participated in the event. "It's wonderful having these kids learn about peer pressure and how to combat that."

This is the first year this kind of event has been held, said Lisa Lombardozzi, Herndon High Parent-Teacher Association president and Greater Herndon Community Coalition member.

"Because these kids are all going to be in middle school together soon, it's a great chance to get them together before then," she said. "I'd like for them to be able to share ideas with each other."

While eating pizza provided by the Greater Herndon Community Coalition, students listened to Herndon High School security guard and former federal employee Peter Coles.

Coles highlighted the importance of a positive self-image and self-esteem and ways students can build up confidence. He also asked two Herndon High School athletes to talk to the students about the peer pressures they have dealt with in their athletic and social lives.

Jimmy McLaughlin, 2005 state champion in the 100 meter backstroke, spoke to the students about the importance of staying focused on a goal instead of being side tracked by what other people think is cool.

Echoing his comments, Jeremiah Headen, a track athlete who recently competed in national championships in New York City, told the students his goal was to compete in the Olympics by the time he was in college.

Coles closed his speech by offering the students tips to help them increase their self-esteem and confidence, while reminding them the importance of helping others.

"You can't get something back without giving something first," Coles said. His tips included turning off the television and computers for seven days and reading a book instead, holding a conversation with someone they find intimidating, cleaning up their rooms without being asked, saving an allowance and using it to take their parents out to dinner and most importantly removing "I can't" from their vocabulary and replacing it with "I can."

IN THE MONTHS leading up to the summit, the Herndon High leadership students created five committees to plan the various aspects of the event.

Following Coles, the skit committee performed three skits that highlighted pressures to date, cheating on tests and bullying in school, skipping class, doing drugs, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

"I just really want people to know that peer pressure is something we all go through," senior Awa Nur said. "I hope we can give them a positive influence on peer pressure and show them they can be leaders at this level if they want."

Amazed at the pressures elementary and middle school students already face, the high schoolers were also acting as role models.

"This is something that has definitely seeped its way down into middle school and sometimes into elementary school," said Herendeen about peer pressure to drink alcohol or do drugs. "It's getting younger and younger and if we overlooked it, it would not be good. You cannot turn the other cheek."

Having to address these everyday peer pressures is also a good experience for the high school students.

"I think this summit has made them think about the issues a lot more," said Davis May, Herndon leadership class sponsor.

While some of the topics may be taboo, including the topic of sexual relationships, the high schoolers made sure to touch on these issues, but in a less intense way.

"It just needs to be done," said senior Meghan Ashworth. "It might be uncomfortable, but you need to get it out there and start talking about it."

After their skits the students formed groups where the high schoolers facilitated discussions about peer pressure and leadership opportunities at the high school level. The peer pressure discussions covered positive peer pressure, why people give in to peer pressure and how to deal with it.

"A lot of times people might be timid and hesitant about doing events because they are worried about being cool," said Katie Lombardozzi. "It all goes back to encouraging them to be their own person."