By JEN CARDINES
Curious motorist slowed for a better look as a group of DePaolo Middle School students were huddled at the fence on Pleasant Street in near freezing temperatures. The students were busy at work on Monday afternoon, sticking empty cups into the fencing with precise care.
Slowly letters began to take shape along the fence. Shortly, they began to form words and phrases.
On Wednesday, March 15, the nation celebrated the annual “Kick Butts” day, and the DePaolo kids were trying to beat the incoming snow storm, so that their anti-smoking messages would be clear whether school was in or not.
“We wanted it to be completed, so that it was on display for the actual date,” said faculty advisor Trish Kenefick. And it’s a good thing, because Tuesday’s snow storm would have prevented them from accessing the area by Wednesday.
The middle school students are peer advocates for Southington’s Drug Task Force, and their project is timed to coincide with the annual nation-wide movement of youth activism sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. On “Kick Butts” day, kids encourage their peers to be tobacco-free, reject tobacco companies’ marketing tactics, and urge elected officials to help make the next generation tobacco-free.
This year, the campaign is focusing on how a growing market of sweet-flavored products, such as electronic cigarettes and cigars, are threatening to addict a whole new generation.
According to Tobacco-Free Kids, Connecticut tobacco use claims 4,900 lives and costs $2.03 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, 10.3 percent of Connecticut’s high school students smoke.
The Southington students broke into groups, each with different colored paper cups, to spread awareness. The cups were stuck through the fence to spell out letters. Slogans like “Hugs Not Drugs” “U Use U Lose” and “Smoking = Cancer” decorated the school’s perimeter in support of the nation-wide movement.
DePaolo’s group is registered on the map of participating locations, found at www.kickbuttsday.org/map. It was one of three spots in Connecticut that organized activities for Kick Butts Day.
Photos by JEN CARDINES