HYPE (Healthy Youth Peer Educators) Offer Information, Not Blame

Advocate Smart, Healthy Alternatives to Alcohol & Marijuana

HYPE statsThe HYPE (Healthy Youth Peer Educators) program at Oak Park and River Forest High School plays an important role in communitywide efforts to reduce teen alcohol and substance use.  Twenty-five sophomores, juniors and seniors, serve as peer mentors who encourage fellow students to make informed decisions and embrace healthier habits. Team members Mary Vestal, Jorge Boyas, and Anna Gagliardo  stopped by Prevention & Wellness Coordinator, Ginger Colamussi’s office to share what HYPE is doing to make a difference.

Why do you think alcohol and marijuana are so widely used by students in our communities? How do adults play a role in this issue?

Jorge: Many adults in Oak Park and River Forest see marijuana use as socially acceptable. And this mentality trickles down. With alcohol, there are parents who let their kids throw house parties while saying, “don’t tell me anything because I’ll get in trouble.” It sends a mixed message: “this is illegal, but do what you please.”

Mary: Kids focus on the short-term experience, not the long-term impact on relationships, learning and health.

Ms. Colamussi: Life is incredibly stressful for our young people, but many haven’t learned how to identify stressors or how to deal with stress in healthy ways.

What on-going projects are you involved in?

Anna: Right now, we have three workshops to help our peers make smart and healthy choices and avoid ones that will mess up their lives. Friends Helping Friends focuses on how to support friends who are in crisis. Huskie Strong encourages students to build key healthy habits that include avoiding alcohol and drug use.

Ms. Colamussi:Our third workshop is called The Blunt Truth. It's an interactive trivia game that teaches students real facts about the physical, mental, and social effects of marijuana use.

Where do you hold these workshops?

Jorge: In the classroom. Teachers request our workshops.

Anna: They often ask for workshops that relate to a topic the class is studying.

Mary: We visit a lot of the health and psychology classes.

Anna: And HYPE has informal lunchtime workshops and activities, too.

Is there any special training involved?

Ms. Colamussi: We held a two-day training over the summer and a full-day training retreat in the fall where peer educators lead “practice” workshops. Then we broke into small groups to offer feedback. During the school year, HYPE meets every Friday morning before classes to discuss how the workshops are going and to make changes. The students generate a lot of the ideas for what we do.

Have you been able to address these issues outside of the school, in the community?

Mary: HYPE participated in the Sticker Shock Campaign. On the night before Homecoming we put stickers on 1000 liquor bottles at the Jewel Osco in River Forest and Pete’s Fresh in Oak Park to remind adults it’s illegal to buy alcohol for anyone under 21.

Finally, does anyone want to share what they find rewarding about being a Healthy Youth Peer Educator?

Jorge: Not only giving out information but curbing misinformation, too.

Check out the measures SAY is tracking in our Baseline Report

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