School assemblies need to be more impactful, meaningful to students

by James Engel

There are many hallmarks of the beginning of a school year; extended homeroom, school handbook presentations, signing multitudes of papers, iPad handouts, and, of course, anti-drug assemblies. Each year a new presentation is given to warn us of potential dangers of drugs and alcohol, but some are more successful than others. This year’s “LEAD” assembly seemed to be particularly ineffective and ultimately crammed too much into the presentation while spreading dangerous misinformation.
By the title of the presentation, I assumed that the assembly would focus on leadership in high school and the importance of getting involved during your high school tenure.
Little did I know, that was one of the only subjects the speakers would not touch on. Simply stated, the presentation was too much. The speakers attempted to include drugs, alcohol, vaping, drunk driving, bullying, cyberbullying, and child pornography into about an hour.
If they wanted to truly make an impact on us they should have focused on the most important issues and delved deeper into those. Instead, the speakers seemed to say, “Don’t do [bad thing]. Here’s a video clip from the news to show you why.”
This method was entirely ineffective. The drug and alcohol portion of the assembly seemed to simply list different narcotics and reiterate high school’s golden rule, “Don’t do drugs, and don’t drink.” It was nothing new or profound, we’ve heard it in health class since elementary school.
This is not even mentioning the blatant misinformation spread by this part of the presentation. The speakers attempted to tell us that all drugs cause flashbacks. This is a lie and a scare tactic that should not be believed. Hallucinogens like LSD can cause flashbacks in very rare cases, but to say, as the speakers did, that drugs like marijuana can cause flashbacks is a blatant lie.
In fact, when I and several of my peers questioned one of the speakers after the assembly about this information, he admitted that non-hallucinogenic drugs cannot cause flashbacks. Although he added, “We would like you to believe that they do.”
The vaping section of the presentation was more comical than anything. We were told that vaping companies target us with fun flavors that we will ultimately become addicted to. Sure, fair point, but is this stopping anyone? Showing us flavor names like “Unicorn Milk” isn’t going to make fiends stop in their tracks.
If anything, I heard of my peers seeking out this new mystical flavor of e-juice. The substance portion of the assembly seemed to be an utter flop, and these concepts were better explained by our health teachers.
The bullying section was the same somber tale we’re told every year. A student was bullied, and unfortunately ended their life as a result. These news stories are troubling and awful, but is scaring us with suicide an effective way to halt bullying? Is showing YouTube clips from late night news going to halt the root of problems of bullying?
This is not to say that there should not be assemblies devoted to these issues. They are important issues that need to be addressed, but the way the LEAD presenters went about it was not the right way to do it.
The best assembly on issues like these was in my sophomore year. The mother of a young woman who died of a heroin overdose came in and told us how her daughter descended into a cycle of addiction.
She showed us pictures of her daughter when she was our age, and talked about her struggles with pain pills that eventually became a heroin addiction.
The mother talked about how her life had changed since the death of her daughter and involuntarily cried while she said it. The auditorium was silent for her. Every soul in the room listened. She wasn’t trying to scare or deceive us.
She simply told us her story and how drugs destroyed not only her daughter’s life, but her own. That assembly had real impact, real preventative power that LEAD’s utterly lacked.
Why not have more assemblies like that one? These assemblies should consist of real people telling real stories about what happened to them and how to help people that are currently going through similar issues.
Rather than showing us a news clip of a young student that committed suicide, invite those affected by the issue. Have people who were bullied come in and speak to us about their struggles and how they overcame them. A PowerPoint with YouTube clips simply cannot do justice to the importance of the issues we face.
The LEAD assembly and its five D’s ultimately failed the student of Shaler Area. Not one issue was given the justice it deserved, and the misinformation and scare tactics used by the speakers were disappointing.
I hope that the district considers bringing in guest speakers similar to that amazing mother, but until then I doubt much change will be made to the minds of myself and my peers.
But hey, at least we got a free donut.