New perspectives on prevention

Community members are preparing for a series of discussions that aim to gather the perspectives of students on local substance abuse.

The third annual Hamilton County Youth Summit will bring local students together in small groups to discuss substances including alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and other drugs on March 28. On Tuesday, a group of about a dozen organizers met to discuss how they would facilitate discussions with the students.

The summit will consist of a group of about 50 high school students. Kathy Getting, director of PowerUp YOUth, said the students were randomly selected from Webster City High School, Northeast Hamilton and South Hamilton. Getting said the summit helps identify problems in Hamilton County. However, it also tells her and other facilitators what students see as positive influences in their towns.

“I would like to have an understanding about what kids see as strengths in our community when it comes to preventing substance abuse,” Getting said.

Much of the time students will spend at the youth summit will involve small group discussions. In those groups, students will be asked questions about substance abuse and prevention as it relates to the social aspects of their lives. That includes interactions with their friends and peers, family members, the broader community and on social media.

Summit facilitators were given a list of questions on Tuesday that could be used as jumping off points in discussion groups. Those included how advances in technology and parental influence affect substance abuse and what might encourage students to use substances, among many others. Several facilitators were wary of leading students with their questions. However, Phil Heckman, 4-H youth program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Hamilton County, said those questions are important.

“Those kind of questions serve a very valuable purpose in the discussion. When you give an easy question, then you start the ball rolling in discussion,” Heckman said.

In addition to giving facilitators an insight into the local youth perspective on substance abuse, Heckman said the summit also gives participating students a chance to voice their opinions to the public. Near the end of the session, students will have several minutes to give a presentation to community leaders. They will also be able to answer questions from those leaders in a question and answer session.

“We’re asking these young people, essentially, to share their opinions with four to six hours of prep time in front of yet another group of individuals,” Heckman said. “We’re building the small group with the goal of building a much larger group and having it so they’re comfortable and willing to stand up in front of yet another group of strangers that day and talk about what they’ve talked about.”

Students will also participate in a survey at the summit with results to be published at a later date.