Rockville High School's SSNAP group wraps up year of positive impacts

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Jun. 6, 2013
Student and SSNAP member Chelsea Poloski (right) had a substance-free after-prom party with many of her friends. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

Students Seeking New Achievements Positively, also known as SSNAP, is a group of committed Rockville High School students who are wrapping up a successful year of promoting drug-and-alcohol-free activities and an overall better climate at their school, through a variety of efforts.

Among their many efforts, last fall the group decorated paper bags with positive-but-serious warnings about alcohol abuse, and distributed more than 2,000 of them to local participating package stores so that people who drink will be discouraged from driving while intoxicated and endangering lives.

Student Alyssa Condon said the group tried to come up with creative sayings based on holiday songs and hopes that the messages got through. “Some of them came out pretty good,” she said. “They all have 'don't drink and drive' messages, and hopefully people will make good choices. We distributed them to all of these package stores, and whenever they sold anything there, they would put them in the bags.”

Condon said the stores have asked SSNAP to renew the program. “So, I think they definitely make an impact, and it's fun for us, too,” she said. “When people get something like that at the package store, they kind of have to read it.”

SSNAP member Amy Eitelman said that the group also attended a conference with other similar groups in the area, and shared ideas. The Bag Swap idea was subsequently used in other towns.

“We shared our ideas, and did a couple of team-building activities,” Eitelman said.

The group gave out a lot of items during lunches at RHS, where they created awareness about their group and its messages, including a pledge that students could sign. They also offered suggestions to their peers about how to avoid peer pressure. One handout listed 10 excuses a teen could give to avoid a party where substances are being used, but still maintain one's “coolness.”

Just before the school's proms, the group hosted Alcohol Awareness Week, which included several activities. “We did a bunch of lunchtime give-aways,” said student Tim Lyons, adding that students were also asked to try on vision-impairment goggles, and then had to take a field sobriety test, administered by Student Resource Officer Steve Langlais.

“What it does is impairs your vision so that you know what it's like to be drunk, and go through the experience of the drunk test,” McCleary said.

A wrecked car was on display near the student parking lot, along with empty bottles, showing what can happen in an accident.
Skeletons were placed in chairs in the hallway near the cafeteria, to represent drunk driving victims, each with a sign stating that they were a driver, passenger or innocent bystander.

“It shows that your decisions can impact everyone else around you,” McCleary said.

SSNAP members also wore makeup to school, making it appear that they had bruised faces. When others asked them about their faces, the students replied with a story of a character they were portraying that had been in a drunk-driving accident, complete with a backstory of what led up to the incident.

Student Chelsea Poloski's story revolved around having to drive home quickly from a party in the rain to make curfew. “I think it had an effect,” she said. “I added little details, like it really did pour the night before.”

“Most people took it seriously, and didn't make a joke out of it,” Eitelman said.

The group also hosted the popular Volleyball Lock-in, which has taken place for seven years. The event runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. This past year, 36 teams took part, and the event sold out in about an hour.

The group's philosophy is that teens can have a great deal of fun without using drugs or alcohol, or other destructive behaviors.

“I like being in this group, because it lets me know that there are other kids in this school who are willing to not do that stuff and still hang out,” said Luke McCleary. “There are kids in the school who want to have fun, but do it legally and safely.”

“It's cool to be with kids who want to do the same things, but it's also cool to try and help other people make those decisions,” said Leah Abramson.

With most of the members being juniors, the group will also make efforts to boost membership next year, so the creation of the new achievements can carry on. The members said they would sell the idea by telling potential new members that it's a great way to meet people and have fun while making a difference.

"There's a lot of partying and negative stuff, and SSNAP was a way I got away from that," one student said.

Students interested in joining SSNAP should contact Vernon Youth Services Youth Counselor Kim McTighe at her office in Rockville High School.

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