2014-04-17 / Around Town

' Periwinkle Blue' Flags Help Honor Young DUI Victim

By Theresa Hillman

Students promote safety awareness. (Photo by Angela Varacalli) Students promote safety awareness. (Photo by Angela Varacalli) Six hundred small “periwinkle blue” flags planted on the school’s front lawn greeted Middletown High School students first-thing Wednesday morning. A new set of posters–same color–were set up inside.

“We wanted the kids to be asking each other what it was all about as they got off the bus,” said Lori Verderosa, coordinator of the Middletown Prevention Coalition MPC) that has been spearheading these activities during April, which is Alcohol Awareness Month. The organization’s youth committee was responsible for the flags and posters.

Sophomore Alexa Simard and freshman Anna Leffel, of PUSH (Peer Union For Safety and Health) told the School Committee at its Thursday, April 10 meeting that they hope awareness raised through this campaign would honor the memory of 13-year-old Kaitlyn

DeCubellis of Narragansett who was killed by a drunk driver.

“Katy was a young girl with a lot of integrity and compassion,” Verderosa said. “She cared about her peers.” Middletown is doing its best to honor Katy’s memory. Periwinkle blue was her favorite color.

According to Simard, PUSH’s positive health education approach makes students more comfortable with sharing and getting help. At a tobacco free event at the state capitol, PUSH used humor when they dressed as Zombies and handed out flyers to smokers. PUSH used a game show format to send a drug-and-alcohol-free message at the Middle School.

Verderosa said that peer influence affects the rate of substance abuse among young people. She said that although the majority of kids (77 percent) are not using, “The greatest risk factor is hanging out with friends who use.” Verderosa said that in Middletown there is no community center where young people could gather.

“We are in sore need of space,” she said.

Meanwhile, the school committee was told that ecological restoration is the mission of the Green Team from Gaudet Middle School.

Science teacher Richard Taylor said that since 2010, most of the seventh graders have planted appropriate greenery in their acre of outdoor classroom space. “They have improved the ecosystem on campus,” Taylor said. Green Team students said planting, rather than burning or using herbicides, protects fragile breeding grounds and local drinking water. Students have replanted native trees and cattails to replace the invasive phragmites (the common reed) that damage wetlands.

Students hope to expand their efforts every year and design a boardwalk through the area.

Superintendent Kraeger praised PUSH and the Green Team. “They are fine examples of our students in the Middletown Public Schools. They are articulate; they advocate for themselves. They are directed and focused on the right cause. We are extremely proud of you.”

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