Changing Portland in Orlando

By Jim Conway

Four young women from Alliance John Meek High School got off the plane in hot, sunny Orlando. All but one had never been on an airplane before. What did they have in common? All had been expelled from other Portland Public Schools. They had participated in leadership development facilitated by Trevor Harris, the Big Village Coordinator.

Prior to the flight, the students showed up for weekly sessions to work on identifying local community drug problems and potential pathways for improvement. Alberta is characterized as an easy access neighborhood for alcohol and drugs for minors, for a using youth culture with environmental cues everywhere. So the students needed help to define an issue to focus upon at Alliance High School.

Not knowing these young women and viewing them from outside their community, what stood out was their dramatic manner, unfiltered outspokenness and suspiciousness of authority. Spending time with them revealed other, more salient characteristics. They were dedicated, quick learners and very involved.

CADCA ( Community Alcohol and Drug Coalitions of America) is a national organization. Every kind of community in the United States is represented. The local issues defined were as diverse as the students.

Along with chaperones, the Alliance students attended the BASIC Course in Strategic Prevention Framework. Usually abbreviated SPF, the course provided our students the fundamental vocabulary and tools of community youth based prevention. The CADCA trainors were excellent at matching methods to the teen audience.

At first, the Alliance students kept their distant, stand offish demeanor. After all, this large gathering had the stamp of white, polished middle America. What would they find in common with four loud Black girls from the mean streets of Alberta/Gresham?

It was amazing to view the process as it unfolded. By the end of the week, the Alliance girls were leading table top drum circles. They were also learning and integrating a new conceptual vocabulary into their efforts.

By the end of the training they identified what would support a prevention effort targeted at Alliance High School. In January 2019, Alliance opened a weekly peer led group for any student with drug issues or interest. By the Summer break, the benefits were showing. Students had a safe harbor to openly share their issues, increase their awareness of their choices and impacts and make better decisions.

In fact, they chose the name of the group as Making Good Decisions.

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