Webster Parish School officials are looking into bringing a student-led organization targeting underage alcohol and prescription drug abuse into the schools.

Michelle Bates/Press-Herald/Dylan Ivy, standing, talks to Bienville Parish students who belong to the Students Against Destructive Decisions organization. Ivy is a national trainer for SADD and is the state contact for SADD National.
Michelle Bates/Press-Herald/Dylan Ivy, standing, talks to Bienville Parish students who belong to the Students Against Destructive Decisions organization. Ivy is a national trainer for SADD and is the state contact for SADD National.
Ursula Hullaby, drug prevention and safety coordinator for Webster Parish Schools, says with the full support of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls, she wants to bring Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, to Webster Parish.

“It’s safety first for our students,” she said. “From the top to the bottom, we believe in promoting safety for our students. Anything that will provide incentives for our students to be drug and alcohol free, we want to offer that opportunity to them. We want to offer them the chance to experience some of these things and let them know we care about their health and safety.”

Training for Bienville Parish students from Ringgold High School took place at United Way of Northwest Louisiana Tuesday, where students learned how to take the messages of good choices back to their school.

Dylan Ivy, instructor for the training, is a national trainer who co-founded the Livingston Parish SADD group. He is also the official Louisiana contact for SADD National. He says the goal of SADD is to catch kids early and instill the message of prevention and better choices.

“Underage alcohol use is a problem they face every day,” he said. “It’s a problem they are going to continue to face for a long time. Bullying is kind of the same thing, in the same category as underage alcohol use.”

He says the basic issues kids will continue to deal with along with underage alcohol use is bullying.

“We see a lot of peer pressure,” he said. “Bullying is a problem and has been a problem, but the awareness of it is just now getting started. There are a lot of great resources out there, and that’s the biggest thing. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. If I can teach these kids how to access these resources, they just have to know where to go to get the stuff they need to make people aware of the problems that are out there.”

He says while SADD is student-led, it is guided by a teacher or sponsor. The students make the decisions on the issues they want to tackle, and the sponsor makes it possible if it is within reason or the guidelines of their school.

Kagnee Veitch, operations support coordinator for United Way, offered to host the training, saying the goal is to see this organization started in Webster Parish.

“Bienville Parish has one of the highest alcohol and prescription drug use rates for young people,” she said. “United Way is on that coalition, and one of the things they are funding is the SADD program.”

The Bienville Community Coalition began in October 2015, says Jill Waltemate, district coalition coordinator. Although the numbers are high in Bienville Parish, she says the numbers are high in Webster Parish too.

“The data they get their information from is from a survey the kids take across the state called the Louisiana Caring Community Youth Survey,” she said. “This is how Bienville Parish was selected to get the grant, but the numbers in Webster Parish are high also. If you look at the numbers, the numbers are scary high everywhere.”

Waltemate says the Bienville Parish group received a grant from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Region 7. Each year, a parish in the region is chosen for one of these grants conducted by the Picard Center, she said.

“The federal government awarded the State of Louisiana a Partnership for Success grant,” she said. “The state grant is about $13 million, and there are 10 coalitions through the state. The grant is about $150,000 a year for five years.”

Students from across the state will take the next survey in the fall. The survey is anonymous.