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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

'Alternative High' offers drug-free fun to Waipahu students

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer

Waipahu Intermediate School students learned last week that there are other ways — at least 31 — to have fun while steering clear of risky behavior.

Through an all-day activity called Alternative High, the 1,400 seventh- and eighth-graders hit various locations around the island or learned new skills on campus, then wrote essays on what they had learned.

"The whole day is devoted to having fun and bonding with your teachers ... in a drug-free activity," said Ginger Fujimoto, the Peer Education Program adviser who was in charge of the program.

Students were able to choose from 31 activities.

Popular field trips included going to Ultrazone, Ice Palace and the Honolulu Zoo, as well as hiking, golf, bowling, karaoke and skateboarding.

Those who stayed on campus could learn line dancing, cheerleading or karate, do craftwork, watch movies or play sports. This group also watched a documentary on the dangers of crystal methamphetamine use.

Eighth-grader Tiana Borja, who helped organize the activities, said students her age are already experimenting with drugs and many of them have taken up smoking, walking around with cigarettes behind their ears.

"Our hope and objective is for them to learn they can do these activities that they learned today instead of doing drugs and getting high," she said.

Alternative High is only one way students in the Peer Education Program try to teach their classmates. The PEP students also give classroom presentations, put on lunchtime activities and offer support for students who come to them with problems.

This was the first time Waipahu High had an Alternative High since 2001.

The day gave teachers the opportunity to share skills with their students that normally wouldn't come up in the classroom. "They get to see their teachers in a different light," Fujimoto said. For example, the school's band director, a friend of professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, got to show his skills at Hickam Skate Park.

Students who stayed on campus had a chance to display the clay erasers, hand sanitizer and lauhala bracelets they had crafted.

A surprise hit was the campus beautification activity. About 30 students paid $2 for the opportunity to dig in the dirt, plant grass and do other things to make the campus more pleasant. Fujimoto pointed out they might have been drawn by the promise of pastries in the morning and hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch.

A glimpse at the essays indicated that they were picking up on the intent of the program, that there are other things to do than get high.

"We want them to make healthier choices," Fujimoto said.

Fujimoto said intermediate school is a great time to promote drug prevention in the schools.

"It's just really a good age to try to do drug prevention because they're reachable, they still listen to their parents and they still pretty much listen to the teachers and you can still affect their choices," she said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.

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Early planning

Lessons learned: "If we ever do it again, we'll have to have more free activities," said Ginger Fujimoto, a Peer Education Program adviser. Some students ended up in study hall because they could not pay the $1 to $12 for the activities they signed up for. Fujimoto said more adults need to work on the activity.

Key to success: "Very early planning and organization and getting the PEP kids to do their things," Fujimoto said. "They put in a lot of extra time."

How they did it: In August, Fujimoto asked teachers to determine what activities they wanted to sponsor and whether it meant leading the activity themselves or bringing in someone else to do it. Registration began in November and the activities were filled on a first-come, first-served basis. While Fujimoto was in charge of the logistics, the PEP students helped her get registration packets out, collect money and determine which students would go to which activities.