TEWKSBURY — “It all abruptly ended. At the traf­fic island, my life con­cluded.”

TMHS students presented an impactful skit about the consequences of bad choices at a Town Hall meeting Tuesday night, Oct. 29. A collaboration with SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), the production was one component of the SADD (Stu­dents Against De­struc­­tive Decisions) group’s project called #Communi­tiesTalk: Town Hall meetings to discuss underage drinking, substance use and the irreversible consequences of drinking and driving.

Guided by Tewksbury’s SAPC Program Director Maria Ruggiero and Safety Of­ficer Jennie Welch, the students have been creating a variety of outreach tools to communicate a message of making safe choices and reaching out for help when times are tough.

Students Sarah Down­ing, Anisha LaCerda, AJ LaCerda, Lily Gigante, Trevor Trodden, Kaleigh Nagle, Izzy Celata and Liam McDermott made a presentation to Wynn Mid­­dle School Assistant Principal Andy Long of a giant “good choices” banner for the school. The banner depicts four areas of choices students might be confronted with: vaping/smoking, bullying, un­­derage drinking and texting while driving. Identical banners are at the high school and at the teen section of the Tewks­bury Public Library and were created by the students during the summer.

According to Ruggiero, “the students wanted to create a positive spin for their messages and created an attractive poster to get the attention of their peers.”

Organized with the help of English teacher and SADD advisor Andy Bellistri, the presentation was well at­tended and recorded by Tewksbury Telemedia. Tewksbury Health Director Susan Sawyer, Board of Health member and Tewks­bury CARES chair Maria Zaroulis, Tewksbury Police Chief Tim Sheehan, Board of Health Chair Raymond Barry, State Representative Dave Robertson and Mid­dlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan were part of a panel which participated in a community question and answer forum.

Rep. Robertson applauded the students’ work and said “it’s OK to choose the right way,” encouraging them to not succumb to bullying and to stand up for their convictions.

Long recounted the death of Len Bias in 1986, a top Celtics pick who died from a cocaine induced heart issue two days after being drafted, an illustration of the dangers of drug use which resonated with youth of the time.

Sheehan discussed the opioid epidemic and gateway drug usage by teens and preteens. DA Ryan spoke about two bills her office has brought forward, one which limits the quantity of opioids initially dispensed for pain medication due to a hospital stay or injury, and another which protects students who would make a call for help for a friend in distress from drinking or drugs, and not prosecute the caller for being present.

Ryan cited recent incidents where a student died or almost died because peers were too afraid to seek medical help immediately for fear of getting in trouble themselves.

Zaroulis acknowledged the pressure that youth are under by the media, ex­plaining the push for perfection and an ideal of existence which is just not achievable, and is in fact fictitious.

The message from all is “don’t give in to peer pressure” and “it’s OK to stand out from the crowd — ok to be ‘not’ OK.”

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