By NANCY WU
On Tuesday, October 14, the High School Youth Action Team (HSYAT), along with the Irvine Prevention Coalition, was recognized during a public city council meeting at City Hall. Irvine mayor Steven Choi personally presented the commendation to the group, praising past and present efforts towards encouraging teens not to use alcohol and illegal drugs. “Every year, HSYAT takes the lead in educating students to make good decisions,” said Steve Knollmiller, the HYSAT program organizer.
The Youth Action Team (YAT) is a city run organization that specifically serves the needs and interest of the teen community. HSYAT advisors meet periodically with student staff–three from every Irvine Unified School District high school, in addition to Beckman High School–to plan community service projects, social events and educational forums. Among these education forums is a Red Ribbon Week forum; this year’s was called “The Choice: Why teens choose to not use drugs and alcohol.”
This year, the Red Ribbon Week theme was “Hugs not Drugs,” chosen for its versatility; creative posters were placed around school campuses with variations of the phrase such as “Uggs not drugs,” or “snugs not drugs.” “It’s all about making choices,” said Kriti Agrawal (Sr.), a University High School (UHS) HSYAT representative. The Associated Student Body (ASB) was also given t-shirts by YAT to wear on Thursday, the day of the forum. Jason Lao (So.) said, “It was really cool seeing all the creative posters with funny phrases and all of the cool t-shirts that people wore.” All efforts were to help promotion for “The Choice.”
On Wednesday morning, UHS HSYAT staff members, Agrawal, Sophia Bajak (Jr.) and Cynthia Tang (Sr.), served hot chocolate before school to students to showcase another alternative of the theme: “Mugs not Drugs.” Dorothy Xu (So.), who attended the event, said, “I thought the whole thing was pretty cool especially because it was cold that morning, and hot chocolate made it better. It was a good way to approach high school kids.” Students had the opportunity to spin a wheel and win prizes such as Red Ribbon Week bracelets, sunglasses, pins, licorice and more. The grand prize, of course, was a mug labeled, “Mugs not drugs.”
“The Choice” occurred on Thursday night at the Lakeview Senior Center. Around 400 students were in attendance; 50 people past the originally set maximum of 350 students, forcing students to sit in the back because there were not enough chairs to accommodate the sheer number of attendees. In the end, some students had to be turned away to avoid packing the auditorium to the point where it became a fire hazard. What motivated many students to attend was the prospect of extra credit, which teachers from every school offered to their classes for attending the event.
“The Choice” featured speakers who spoke about the negative effects of alcohol and illegal drug use. One of the speakers was Sergeant Troy Gielish of the Irvine Police Department, who worked for five years for the Drug Enforcement Agency as a drug recognition expert. His presentation focused on debunking myths about marijuana and vapor smoking, as many students have misconceptions that their use is not harmful. In addition, a panel of speakers from Solace Orange County, a support group for families who have lost loved ones to substance abuse, talked about the dangers of using drugs. The panel was made up of mothers who lost their children to drug abuse. “Overall, it was a very informative forum,” said Amber Lin (Sr.). “They did a good job conveying the dangers of drugs and addiction. They also gave a lot of real life examples of people who’ve died from drugs which further enforces the seriousness of this epidemic.”
The Youth Action Team looks forward to repeating this year’s success in future events, such as its Akustikoff in December and Teen Summit in March.