‘Teen Summit’ Aims To Give Students Tools For Life

A student struggles to maintain his balance while walking and wearing “Fatal Vision” goggles during the 2018 Teen Summit at Sampson G. Smith School.

About 125 township teenagers attended the annual Teen Summit on March 10, learning strategies for coping with a variety of issues with which they may deal as they get older.

The event, held at Sampson G. Smith School, featured a series of workshops ranging from bullying, to substance abuse prevention, to dealing with teen pregnancy and mental health issues.

The event was open to students in grades 7 to 12.

The summit was sponsored by the Franklin Township Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse, in coordination with student assistant counselors for the school district.

“The kids get a lot out of it, and hopefully it gives them a few extra prevention items to keep in their backpacks to deal with issues that they’re faced with,” said Alice Osipowitz, director of the township recreation department, under which the municipal alliance falls.

“It’s just giving kids the tools to help them in their lives,” she said.

One of the workshops, held in the school gym, featured the use of “fatal vision” goggles, which simulate the experience of being under the influence of alcohol.

Students were given a variety of tasks to complete while wearing the glasses, including walking around a small course, walking a straight line, shooting a basketball and driving a pedal cart around a set course.

Another workshop, hosted by Abena Dakwahene of Somerville-based Empower Somerset, dealt with how the body processes alcohol.

“I explained how your blood alcohol content is affected by your gender, your weight and how much you drink,” she said. “Kids were awesome, they were participating. They learned how their BAC is affected and learned the importance of not drinking and driving and always get a ride.”

“I think I did make an impact” Dakwahene said. “They had a good time, which was important. This was interactive and educational.”

Basking Ridge resident Lisa Petitt brought to the students a condensed version of a workshop she developed after the 2014 death of her 18-year-old son, Casey, from an overdose.

“I present the journey though illness and educate kids about their stance that it could never happen to me, I could never get addicted,” she said. “I educate them on knowing that it can happen. I take them through the journey of his life and his struggles, how it led to the one choice, and how it’s all about the power of choice. So I educate children on the power of choice.”

“Once addiction hijacks the brain, you lose the power of choice,” Petitt said. “Addiction is also like a slow boil, you don’t know you’re burning until you’re dying.”

“I got  a lot of really positive feedback from very courageous, mature adolescents approaching me, Thanking me for my story,” she said. “If you reach one, then your mission is done. To hear that I might have reached maybe a half dozen, then it’s a home run.”

John Mopper of Somerville-based Blueprint Mental Health, led a workshop on bullying, called, “Thank-You to the Bully.”

“Our intentions have been really good in dealing with bullying prevention, but no matter how much prevention we do, bullying is going to happen,” he said. It’s not as much about preventing bullying, as much as it is equipping kids with the skills to cope with bullying after it happens.”

“I think it was received really well,” Mopper said. “The kids were attentive, they were really focused. And I think it kind of shocked them to hear that negative things were going to happen in their life. You’re going to face adversity. People are going to be mean to you, breakups are going to happen It might not be your fault, but ultimately it is your responsibility to deal with.”

Following the workshops, the students were treated to pizza and desert and raffles for t-shirts and other items.


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