AHS molding young heroes
Learning to be a hero in a high school course may be a tall order,but a group of Aspen High School students and the top administratorwho teaches it don’t seem to think so.Seventeen AHS students are enrolled in Heroes, a unique healthand life education class taught by district Superintendent TomFarrell and Hillary Trish of the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention.The year-long elective course exposes students to the realitiesof drug and alcohol use and abuse through of a variety of media,and encourages them to make conscientious decisions which bestsuit them. Beyond course readings, Farrell arranges for guest lecturers toaddress the class, many of whom are recovering alcoholics andaddicts. Chuck Negron, the voice of Three Dog Night and a recoveringaddict, spoke with the class last October and agreed to play aconcert at the Wheeler Opera House April 2, with all proceedsbenefiting drug education at AHS.But learning is not limited to the classroom. The students willvisit a Tucson, Ariz. drug rehab center this spring and attenda national drug education conference in San Diego in June. Travelsare part of the curriculum.”It’s a great class, simply because we have it, so the rest ofthe school knows that there’s a drug-free class that has so muchfun and goes on lots of trips,” said sophomore Marina Kanipe.”I’ve never heard of any other class like this one,” Farrell said.”A big part of their grade is based on their behavior rather thantheir learnings, with 60 percent of their grade based on thembeing a good role model. So if they got into trouble, it couldhave a major impact on their grade. The real goal is to encouragethese kids to live a healthy lifestyle and to be good role modelsfor their peers.”Many of the Heroes students take being a good role model to anotherlevel, by helping youngsters at the Aspen Middle School reckonwith challenges facing them today.”Middle schoolers are so curious about high school, and what goeson, they have a lot of misconceptions,” said senior Whitney Gordon.”Instead of just talking to them about drugs, we end up talkingabout bigger picture stuff – that’s what they want to know about.”The class has also succeeded in establishing a free and easy relationshipbetween the students and school administration. Classes take placein Farrell’s office and oftentimes students make themselves comfortablejust about everywhere, including in the seat behind Farrell’sdesk. “It’s very open,” said senior Lindsey Bathke. “Tom tells us everythingabout what’s going on with the school, even the bad things sometimes.”Similarly, class discussions afford Farrell and Trish an understandingof student life – one to which many teachers aren’t privy.”I learn more about what is going on in this school system inan hour and a half than I do anywhere else,” Farrell said. “That’swhy I love this class.”People speak candidly in class and words aren’t minced. Put simply,the students trust Farrell and Trish.”What’s important for me, isn’t catching you and punishing you,it’s changing the negative behavior,” Farrell said. “I’m not anadvocate of nailing people to the wall, let’s just help peoplemake better decisions. My goal is to have kids be good role modelsfor the community, as opposed to the community being good rolemodels for the kids.”During class Tuesday, Farrell asked, “Does anybody at the AspenMiddle School drink?” The class chuckled in assent and then begana discussion about being role models.”What chance to do we have then for a drug-free high school ifeverybody who enters it has already tried them?” Farrell continued.”Your job is convince – we adults are not going to make a difference,you are – that you can get somewhere without using. You’re thecream of the crop, and if others see that, they’ll think theycan get to where you have gotten being drug-free. Right now, thescale is tipped against you.”Because you guys have the guts to not drink, others will too,”he said. “We want to delay first use. If we can do that, we’rewinners.””Tom would do anything for anyone, and especially since he’s sodriven where alcohol and drugs are concerned. He’s there for us,for everyone – and for writing college recommendations,” Gordonsaid. “He probably knows us better than anyone in the building,which is saying a lot.””I think it’s a great class, but they didn’t have it when I washere,” said Trish, a recent college graduate and AHS alumnus.”The other good thing to come out of this is the MAC [Making ACommitment] group – a school support group for students who havechosen to be alcohol- and drug-free,” she said. “At this timein their lives, there’s so much peer pressure, that these groupsare very helpful, and it’s also a great opportunity for the kidsto work with Tom. It’s good for student-administration relations.””We’ve opened few doors for criticism,” Farrell said, “becausethe whole class, trips and everything, is funded by the Elks Club,and I’m teaching on a volunteer basis. It’s a great example ofthe community and the school working in partnership.”
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