Ten years ago, Seneca High School substance abuse coordinator Erin Lawler wanted to find a way to better guide underclassmen away from substance abuse.
She soon realized the best way to reach these students was to have them interact with some of their fellow classmates.
The idea eventually transformed into the Seneca Drug Squad, a small group of juniors and seniors who give presentations and talk to the high school’s underclassmen as well as middle school students to help advise them to avoid substance abuse and lead a positive path in life.
Lawler describes the organization as a group of students encouraging underclassmen to stay away from substance abuse through positive reinforcement.
“The driving force was attempting to provide a positive force of prevention among teenagers, but also create a sense of positive peer pressure,” Lawler said.
Each year, more than 100 Seneca students interview to be a part of the Seneca Drug Squad, and only 30 students are selected. Lawler said the number of students who want to get involved with the group shows how much of an impact it has made.
“To have a group heavily entrenched in the culture of a school speaks volumes,” she said.
Lawler selects the group based on a variety of factors. She said the high quality of students at Seneca makes the selection process very difficult.
“It’s a very hard decision, and it says a lot about the kids,” Lawler said.
After the group is selected in October, the students go through a five-to-six week training course where they learn how to empower students and touch them in a positive way. The training doesn’t just dive into how to speak to students, but also challenges the drug squad members to look at themselves. The members are expected to lead their own positive track in life.
Lawler said she’s seen a number of students go through the Drug Squad since its inception and undergo their own changes.
“They’re being empowered in that they realize they can make a positive impact on those around them,” Lawler said.
After training, the Drug Squad goes on a three and a half day retreat to Virginia. The retreat is a culmination of the group’s training and allows the Drug Squad members to reflect on their journey.
“It’s really about character and their ability to get involved and doing something positive,” Lawler said.
Lawler feels the Drug Squad has had a real effect on Seneca and the surrounding communities. She said the communication taking place between a freshman or sophomore with a Drug Squad member can make a positive difference compared to underclassmen speaking with a faculty member or other adult.
“There’s a different level to them being receptive with their peers,” Lawler said.
The Drug Squad is preparing to visit the middle schools in the Seneca community to speak to classes and prepare them for their high school years ahead. Lawler believes speaking with these students before they reach high school can help put them on the right path when their high school careers begin.
At both the high school and middle school level, Lawler has seen students make positive changes in life because of the Drug Squad.
“I get really excited and encouraged seeing teenagers doing something so powerful and making an impact on their peers in a positive way,” she said.
For more information on the Seneca Drug Squad, contact Lawler at (609) 268–4600 ext. 6678 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.