Scarborough students take leading role in preventing drug abuse

Students at Scarborough High School are taking a leading role in trying to prevent drug abuse among their peers.

A group of students, working after school through the Reel Life Program organized by a nonprofit called Project AWARE, created a public service announcement this school year about the dangers of substance abuse (shown above). They will continue work this summer and next school year on a longer, 30-minute film on the same subject.

Two students spoke recently about their filming work and how it’s important for messages about the risks of drug use to come from other youth. The videos are by teenagers, for teenagers, with a goal of preventing addiction. The work is a model for other schools across the state, many of which have already partnered with Project AWARE, co-founded by Carl Lakari and Katey Branch.

For Gabriel Shearer, 16, of Scarborough, the film topic of substance abuse is personal. He played the lead role in the service announcement, acting as a student who turns to marijuana as a way to escape a downward spiral in his home and school life. It doesn’t help.

He related to the problem easily, as he has friends who have used.

“Not only have their grades gone down, but they’ve pretty much lost interest in everything,” he said. “At times it makes me feel kind of helpless.”

Teenagers who abuse drugs and alcohol might think they are alone, he said, but it’s important for them to remember people are there and willing to listen or help no matter what.

Acting is a form of education for those participating and watching. And it’s fun.

“It comes natural to me, and I love doing it,” he said. He’s noticed his grades have improved since he started the work this year, and “it’s kind of made me a happier person.”

Sarah Rinaldi, 16, of Scarborough, directed the service announcement. Addiction has also touched her life, as her cousin died of a drug overdose.

An actress in commercials, school plays and community theater, she decided to attend the first meeting with Project Aware months ago where students discussed main issues for youth. They talked about drug abuse.

“That got me interested because I thought that’s a huge problem with teenagers,” she said.

And she liked the fact that the videos were produced by kids.

“When adults tend to do these projects, some of them tend to lose sight of what it was like when they were younger. With kids, it’s a first person point of view, right at the problem,” she said.

“I really try to imagine how things would play out in real life. I want to make it as realistic as possible, so students can relate.”

Drug abuse is a major problem for Maine and is connected to so much crime and economic distress. How can the state combat the problem? Rinaldi said she did research in her civics class for an essay on how to stop people from smoking.

The main lesson she took away was “just making people aware of the consequences,” she said. “Some people, they’ll know what happens, but they need to see proof of it,” such as how substances affect one’s mind and life.

And that’s what she, Shearer and a couple other dozen students in Scarborough are doing: showing fellow teens in dramatic form the consequences of drugs.

The service announcement and film will be shown at school when they’re both completed. Project AWARE’s programs include the Reel Life Program, a Summer Film Institute and youth empowerment workshops for schools.

Erin Rhoda

About Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.