MACHIAS, Maine — A group of five Rose M. Gaffney students was tired of finding cigarette butts on the playground of its elementary school.
So the members of the Rose M. Gaffney One Voice group — Ryan Conley, McKenna Harriman, Alex Marker, Leif McKenna and Rita Micklus — decided to do something about it.
Among other things, they presented an interactive tobacco prevention workshop for the entire student body. They made anti-tobacco presentations at leadership summits in 2014 and 2015, and they are planning information sessions for parents and community members regarding the school’s tobacco-free campus policies.
And they soon will be posting signs on campus designating the campus tobacco free.
As a result of their efforts, the five youngsters were selected as the Anti-Tobacco Youth Group of the Year by the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine.
The award, presented during the Maine Youth Action Network Leadership Summit in Augusta this fall, recognizes Maine youth age 12 to 18 who have influenced a positive, lasting change in their communities.
The award was announced Nov. 30 by Healthy Acadia, a Healthy Maine Partnership and nonprofit community health coalition working to build healthier communities across Washington and Hancock counties.
The students were “really surprised and excited” by news of the award, said the school’s One Voice advisor, Shannon Micklus.
“It’s proof that we’re actually accomplishing stuff,” said eighth-grade student Rita Micklus, the advisor’s daughter.
Eighth-grader Harriman said she hopes the effect they have will last long after they’ve graduated.
“Keep the legacy living,” agreed eighth-grader Conley.
The first step in their project to address the issue was to find out what the school policy was for tobacco use on campus, said Shannon Micklus.
“We looked at the school policy, and we found out our entire campus … is supposed to be tobacco free — not just smoke free but free of all tobacco products,” she said.
The Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine provides anti-tobacco use signs for schools whose policies meet their standards. The students sent a copy of the school’s policy and received two packages of signs — enough to post both at Rose M. Gaffney and the adjacent Machias Memorial High School.
Working with their advisor, the One Voice students will come up with a plan on where the signs should be posted. They will then take that plan to administrators for approval, Micklus said.
She hopes to have the plan ready by Christmas and the signs installed in January, weather permitting, she said.
“[The project] is totally driven by them. It’s their project. … The kids are really into this,” Micklus said. “I think the work they’re doing is really important.”
“I am very proud of our seventh- and eighth-grade One Voice students,” said Principal Joyce Fragale. “The Anti Tobacco Youth Group of the Year Award is very well deserved. … The students’ plan for the installation of signs will greatly enhance our ability to inform community members that we are a tobacco-free campus.”