“My choice, my future”—that was the recurrent phrase at yesterday’s pep rally at Nome Beltz Jr./Sr. High School. Though there was plenty of music and dancing, it wasn’t an ordinary school gathering. Representatives from Nome Eskimo Community brought the 7th and 8th graders together to launch a multimedia campaign that addresses the growing problem of juvenile alcohol and substance abuse in rural Alaska.
“We want to encourage kids to make positive choices, and we want to celebrate those positive choices with them,” said Niaomi Brunette, youth services specialist for Nome Eskimo Community. “This program is really neat in that it empowers the kids—gives them a sense of pride in what they’re doing. It gives them ownership over their future, the choices that they make.”
Brunette was the MC for the pep rally yesterday. She said the MyChoiceMyFuture program offers one-on-one mentoring and life skills training, in addition to supporting students in living alcohol- and drug-free lives. The multimedia arm of the campaign is funded through a Department of Justice grant, and they’ve been thinking outside the box to engage students.
The campaign’s first PSA features Tyler Eide, a Nome Beltz graduate and state basketball star. His message aired locally last night on major channels like ESPN, CNN, TNT, History and Discovery.
“My choices affect my future. Making good choices will allow me to do anything I dream of doing,” said Eide, in the PSA. “I won’t let alcohol get in the way of my dreams—I’ve seen what it can do to people’s lives. There are so many thing I enjoy doing—I’m going to make the most of my future. I want to make my dreams come true. I’m making good choices because it’s better for me, it’s better for my family and it’s better for my community. It’s my choice because it’s my future.”
The PSA was played for the students at the rally, and as you could hear from the cheers in the crowd, Eide’s message resonated with his peers.
Brunette said that often, conversations about challenging issues like substance abuse can harp on the negative, but this campaign is an opportunity to empower students—reinforcing positive choices (like going to school or eating breakfast) through social media. Students are asked to take “selfie” photos of themselves making good choices, and share those through social media with the hashtag “#mychoicemyfuture”. It’s an effective strategy to engage the tech-savvy younger crowd, and Brunette said, it’s a lot of fun.
“We wanted to have it fun and enjoyable because eventually these kids are going to make the program,” she said. “They’re the ones who are going to be uploading their photos, sharing all the positive choices that they’re making in their lives so we wanted them to feel ownership over it and that’s why we decided to roll it out with a bang and get everyone excited.”
Also during the assembly, students gathered in groups to talk about their personal messages and start taking photos to promote them. Nome Eskimo Community is incentivizing student participation: they’re starting a competition where the winning photo or video posted to their Facebook page will be aired during previews at the movie theater, and the winner will get two free movie tickets.