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|State Police presentation aims to guide students|
Louisiana State Police Troop F officials toured area schools this week to encourage local students to make the right decisions in life and be mindful of the friends they keep.
Trooper Mark Dennis said the program, titled "Behind the Faces," aims to show local youth that the decisions they make can positively or negatively impact their lives, maybe forever. Also, troopers want to inform students that their friends also can be either positive or negative influences in their lives.
This is the second year Troop F has conducted the program in area schools throughout northeast Louisiana. This week, troopers visited 10 schools in the 12-parish region.
On Tuesday, Riser Middle School students participated in the program, which included a video presentation about several teens and how some of their choices have impacted them and their families.
"We let peer pressure influence our decisions from a very young age, and of course, these students (middle school) is one of the age groups that we like to focus on," Dennis said. "We want to tell them, 'Hey, this is something you are doing wrong, and this is how you can correct it.'"
"They can go down the wrong path, but they also can go down a better path," Dennis continued. "The whole program is about picking your friends. Do your friends genuinely want to be your friend, or are they there for their own self-serving interest?"
The program also discusses the issue of bullying and peer pressure while it is intended to encourage students to be nice to others and treat people with respect, too.
The video presentation included a segment about a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide because of verbal and physical abuse and peer pressure from a group of girls she thought were her friends.
Another segment showed a young girl with a serious type of brain cancer who overcame her illness with the support and love of her family and friends.
"She overcame it relatively quickly based on positive influence from her friends," Dennis explained. "Her friends were really what brought her up. They were there to support her and take care of her, and they helped her overcome her illness."
Students have responded well to the message and advice from the state troopers, according to Dennis.
"Even the rowdy schools that we might go to … once the show starts, they get very serious," he said. "That's a neat thing for this age group … to be able to captivate them."
Parents, guardians, teachers, law enforcement officers and the community must reach out to children at an earlier age to ensure they make the right decisions as they grow older, Dennis said.
"Things that we might have done as seniors in high school … these kids are doing in elementary school and junior high," he said. "It amazes me how much they know and what they know of, not to mention what they do."
Sen. Mike Walsworth also spoke to Riser students before the presentation and encouraged them to always think things through before making a decision that could change their lives forever.
"Ages 13 to 23, those 10 years right there, will probably decide if you make it on into adulthood," Walsworth said.
West Ouachita High School leads the state in teenagers killed in automobile accidents, Walsworth said.
"We've had almost 20 teenagers who have died on our roads in west Ouachita Parish since West Ouachita became a school," he said. "Those kids were just like you."
"Some said, 'I'll take a ride with Jimmy, though I don't really know him,'" Walsworth explained. "But they didn't know Jimmy hadn't had his license but for a couple of months, and he drove a car he wasn't experienced in, and he liked to drive fast. Those decisions you make may determine the rest of your life."
Another example Walsworth cited was of a local teenager who recently was arrested for possession of narcotics. He said the teenager decided to ride from school to a friend's house with several other teens. However, he did not know the driver had illegal drugs in the trunk of his car.
"They got stopped for running a stop sign and the next thing you know, all four kids are in jail because of possession of illegal drugs," Walsworth said. "His parents recently called me about this."
"That kid had never been in trouble before in his life, but he made a split decision that wound up costing him a lot of trouble," Walsworth continued. "Now, his parents will have to get a lawyer and there will be a lot of expense all because of a decision that he really didn't think through."
Walsworth warned students they will be faced with peer pressure, but they always will have choices.
"Please think through the decisions you make because they may mean life or death to you," he said.
State Police troopers made their presentation in two schools every day this week. Each presentation by State Police was made at no cost to schools or school system. It was provided through grant funding and money donated to the Louisiana Troopers Charities.