By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
March 5, 2023
Two weeks before COVID hit West Virginia, a group of Greenbrier East High School students presented a lesson plan to combat opioid use to the WV Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Clayton Burch. He loved it, and wanted to take it statewide. The pandemic hit the pause button on all those plans.
But the members of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) were not deterred. Josi Ervin, Jonathan Nguyen, and Laken Bennett used the opportunity to take the program to the next level. In addition to their lesson plan to combat opioid use, they built a second set of lesson plans to combat a growing threat to young people–vaping.
“It’s really bad,” says Jonathan Nguyen, a senior HOSA student. “Someone was reported for vaping during class just last week. They’ll hit it and blow it down their shirts in class.”
Fellow senior Josi Ervin echoes the severity of the problem. “Someone overdosed from vaping during school last year,” she remembers. “It was laced with something. The teacher had to administer Narcan.”
HOSA faculty advisor Margaret Dodd says it is a scary situation. “If we find a student vaping, we have to put on gloves and handle it carefully in case it’s laced with something. We’re just trying our best to protect our school.”
Vaping is a growing problem nationally & locally
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the use of e-cigarettes (also known as vapes) is unsafe. A single unit contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes. In addition to nicotine, the vape units also contain heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals, and flavorings shown to cause lung disease.
Nationally, more than 11% of high school students vape according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But in their experience locally, Ervin and Nguyen say vaping is starting earlier and earlier. They recently met with a kindergarten teacher whose students brought one to class.
“The companies are making it all colorful and appealing to kids,” notes Nguyen. “Our friends say, ‘You just can’t start once you stop.’”
“But it’s like trying to be involved in athletics while only drinking through a straw,” says Ervin. “We hope we can stop it before it starts by educating kids early.”
In response, Ervin, Nguyen, and Bennett created a series of lesson plans to educate students about the risks of vaping. Each set of lesson plans covers three separate classes. Class content includes a pre-test to gauge student knowledge of vaping, a powerpoint presentation, a video, activities for students to understand the effect of vaping on their bodies, and a post-test.
These are lesson plans created by students for other students, and they are available free of charge online for educators. The HOSA students created one set for high school, one set for middle school, and next they plan to create one set for elementary school.
But first, they plan on presenting their lesson plans to the WV Superindent’s Association, where they hope to gain momentum for combatting vaping. After that, they will seek approval from the WV Department of Education for their lesson plans to be used in schools statewide.
“We hope the state approves our lesson plans so teachers across the state can start using them in classrooms,” says Ervin.
‘The only way you’re going to fix it’
The students know they have their work cut out for them in stemming the rising tide of vaping, but they remain hopeful. “Our hope when we started was to hit the middle schoolers before they started,” says Ervin. “But now we see it’s starting in elementary school. It’s starting at home. Educating the little ones will hopefully stop it before it starts. Because that’s the only way you’re going to fix it.”
Nguyen agrees, but thinks it may get worse before it gets better. “I don’t think a lot of kids our age will realize the dangers until someone dies,” he says regretfully. “That’s really, really grim, but it’s reality.”
Bennett is a sophomore and therefore the youngest member of the group. Ervin and Nguyen believe she will be able to take this project to the next level in the coming years. They know it’s a long-term process, so they are working now to build relationships that will last to combat vaping in young people.
Nguyen believes this is only the beginning. “We may not be here next year, but this will live on.”