Kick Butts: Skokie junior high students pledge to be tobacco-free – Skokie Review

Old Orchard Junior High School’s all-encompassing, anti-tobacco campaign begins before one ever steps foot inside the building.

The entrance reflects the commitment students have made against smoking; their hand-print “pledges” to that effect appear in a colorful mural that fills the large glass window above. But it isn’t until one enters Old Orchard Junior High before recognizing the far reach of this no-smoking campaign.

“This is a national campaign that helps bring awareness to anti-tobacco,” said Heather Doane, Old Orchard Junior High health teacher. “It promotes awareness among junior high because there is now one in five kids ages 13 to 18 picking up smoking.”

Many classroom doorways on all floors of the school are decorated in special and creative ways to bring home the anti-tobacco message.

The door decoration contest — with a pizza party as a prize for each grade level — generated great enthusiasm from students, and it showed through each of the meticulously rendered designs.

From images of SpongeBob to arms reaching toward the sky to a yellow brick road, and slogans like “smoke is no joke” to “trash the ash” and “love your lungs,” the vivid displays all bring home one message: Smoking is bad at any age at any time.

Skokie Health Director Dr. Catherine Counard and a few others recently toured the school with Doane as their guide to see just what the students accomplished. By the end of the tour, they even got to vote on the winning doorways, which was no easy task.

“For the past couple of years, we’ve received grant money from the State of Illinois to provide services to schools to help them encourage kids to not start using tobacco,” Counard said.

Tobacco prevention, in fact, is one of Skokie’s primary health plan goals.

“We were able to contract with Peer Services to help the school get ready for Kick Butts day,” Counard said.

Peer Services was a natural partner for the village and Old Orchard Junior High. The community service agency strives to eliminate substance abuse and the problems it causes for individuals, families and communities through “collaborative high-quality prevention and treatment services”

Toni Lake of Peer Services, who toured the school with this small group, said she has been working with the school over the last few weeks just on the Kick Butts program.

“We have been teaching students about the benefits of not smoking and using tobacco,” she said.

Last year, Skokie School District 69’s Lincoln Junior High School participated in the program for the first time, bringing its own creativity to the project. In the inaugural year, the school used grant money to produce a multitude of T-shirts that reflected their own commitment to tobacco-free lives.

Students at District 68 learned not only about the harm tobacco causes, but also about the sobering statistics.

Kids are picking up smoking at the rate of 3,000 a day in the United States. One in five teenagers age 13 to 15 use or have used tobacco. Second-hand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemical compounds.

About five million deaths annually are attributed to smoking.

Eighth-grader Christopher Geans contributed to one of the door decorations — this one pointing to the harmful product tobacco companies create.

“Tobacco is just not good for your lungs or anything in your body really,” he said. “So we’re just talking about what tobacco really does to your body and how we can destroy it if we just work together as a team.”

Geans was among many students who watched a short video in their physical education class and then had the choice to take that pledge to live their lives tobacco-free.

“Every single kid came out, was excited to do it,” Doane said. “They put their hands in paint and signed their names on the handprint saying they were taking the pledge.”

The mural had green, red and black, and gold handprints, all in different sizes and shapes.

But they really were all the same when it came to what matters most. Each handprint was created by someone who promised to live a healthy life where tobacco would have no place.

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