‘You count!’ Chester students receive important message at SISAA assembly


The Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance (SISAA) traveled to Chester on Monday, March 21 to deliver an important message to students in District 139: “You matter!

Sixth through 12th graders gathered at the Colbert Gymnasium to hear educator Brent Swolsky promote positive living and interpersonal communication.

“When young people know someone cares about them, it makes a difference. Everything we have done over the years has been to promote care in one way or another,” said Dennis Trask, youth prevention coordinator at Comwell, which is a SISAA partner.

Swolsky spoke with great enthusiasm and immediately engaged the students by sharing his life experiences.

To demonstrate the importance of good communication skills, Swolsky had the students face each other and shake hands firmly while looking directly into the other person’s eyes. This, he said, creates a connection with that person and lets them know that you are listening to them in a meaningful way.

Swolsky then talked to the students about making a five-year plan for themselves. By maintaining progress checks and actively reflecting on how they are living in relation to their goals and expectations, it is easier for students to succeed, he said. To drive home the point, Swolsky asked participants to close their eyes and engage in a guided imagery exercise.

At one point during the assembly, Swolsky asked for volunteers to come onto the floor to take part in an exercise that demonstrated how support and trust can be huge helping factors in times of need. By finding and using support systems in our lives and in the community, he said, people can survive difficult times and lead successful lives.

Throughout the presentation, Swolsky emphasized the importance of everyone knowing and realizing that “you matter”, and because you matter, there are many sources of support in the community and at school to help when problems become too big to handle alone.

All students received bright yellow wristbands with the words “YOU MATTER” to remind them that people care about them and are there for them when needed.

They also received a business-sized card listing several sources of help, including the phone number of a suicide hotline and a place to call to speak calmly when an anonymous discussion is desired.

The Chester assembly was part of two days of programming designed by SISAA to let students know that there are people who really care about them in Randolph County.

Earlier Monday, SISAA and Swolsky hosted a Teen Summit at the Sparta World Shooting Complex, where students were trained on what to look for in their classmates who could lead to dangerous issues such as drug abuse and of alcohol. High school students from Coulterville, Marissa, Red Bud and Sparta were in attendance.

On Tuesday, March 22, SISAA and Swolsky presented their “You Matter” program in Coulterville, Steeleville and Sparta.

SISAA volunteers who came to support the program in Chester included Mariah Bargman, President of SISAA; Rhonda Wilson, Vice President of SISAA; Tony Glasser; Shannon Glasser; Denis Trask; and John Reith, ComWell Recovery Coordinator.

Bargman welcomed everyone to the Chester assembly and thanked several donors who made the event possible.

Bargman said: “I would like to thank the following companies and individuals for their financial donations and overall support of these assemblies and the Teen Summit held in conjunction with the event. These included the Red Bud Dairy Queen, Pistol City and Jim and Julie Angel, in memory of their niece Emily, whose life was cut short by drug abuse.

Swolsky has been an educator for 22 years, including as a special education teacher and secondary school counselor. In 2019, he received the Behavioral Health Prevention Leader Award from the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health.

In coordination with the program, teachers, staff and administrators received educational materials to help them prevent underage alcohol and other drug use. By knowing how to identify at-risk students and recognize the signs of alcohol and drug use, school staff can play an important role in prevention.

Teachers and staff can help at-risk students by simply talking with students, being a good source of information, using personal stories to help students understand issues, and helping students develop a recovery plan. out to deal with peer pressure to get involved in drugs. and alcohol.


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