As They Face Pressures, Students Learn to Rise ‘Above the Influence’

At Godwin Heights Middle School, the walls can talk.  Getting high, suicide, cutting, bullying and drinking have been some of the topics of conversation. There were feelings, too, like ‘being who I’m not” and “letting things get to me.”

Walls can’t talk, of course. Those words were what seventh-graders wrote on pieces of paper and stuck to the wall when asked what things they wanted to “rise above.”Students holds up a sign to share things that she's above doing

The conversations got started with the help from Above the Influence, a daylong presentation in November.  It was filled with videos, music, art and interactive activities, like the one which filled the wall outside their classroom with issues students struggle with.

“Our students are surrounded by multiple types of influences, each and every day,” said Kristi Kinzler, Godwin Heights Middle School counselor. “Having them identify the various negative pressures that they are dealing with and to see it displayed in such a manner was very powerful.”

Student Deven Fox described it as a “day for kids to realize why it’s important to avoid things like drugs and gangs and instead to go out and do great activities that are positive.”

Above the Influence-Kent County Mobile Experience is a program offered by the Kent County Prevention Coalition (KCPC), an organization of about 30 area groups working to prevent youth substance abuse.  It encourages students to make positive decisions and live “above the influence.”

Above the Influence focuses on student behavior and substance abuseCurrent events, research, technology, pop culture and art are used to teach students the connection between decision-making and personal success. The Office of National Drug Control Policy campaign provides solid facts — like the fact that most high schoolers don’t use drugs — and provides perspective on some issues. An example is the message: “Smoking pot won’t get you where you want to go.”

Teachers and other school staff, plus family and friends, play a key role. “It’s important to know that there are people who will be there for you, especially because so many kids are going through problems at school and at home,” said Hannah Shepherd, Godwin Heights student.

“I thought it was an awesome, eye-opening experience for students,” Kinzler said. “They were able to express themselves.”

Michele K. Stitt, KCPC artistic director, said she was impressed by the middle school students and how they were able to use their life experiences and dreams to empower their peers. “Witnessing these leaders in training was truly inspiring,” she said.

She also was impressed by the Godwin Middle School staff’s hearts and helpfulness. “They didn’t just welcome us in; they rolled up their sleeves and assisted in serving the 120-plus students that we worked with that day.”

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Above the Influence-Kent County Youth Summit powered by the Kent County Prevention Coalition – “The Summit Experience” in less than 3 minutes

Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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