Program at Cranston West seeks to prevent students from making bad decisions

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – “Make smart decisions.”

That’s the message Principal Thomas Barbieri preaches to the students at Cranston West High School every day, but sometimes it’s better when they hear it from their peers.

That’s why more than 100 teenagers at the school have joined the local chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), a student-run program in schools across the country designed encourage young people to make smart choices.

“There’s 1,400 to 1,600 of them on this campus, that’s more of them than there are of us,” Barbieri said, referring to students at Cranston West. “And they’re more apt to listen to each other than they are to adults sometimes, so however we have to get the message across is what we’re going to do.”

According to statistics compiled by child advocacy organization Rhode Island Kids Count, 26% of high school students said they had consumed alcohol within the last 30 days during the 2015-16 school year and 13% admitted to binge drinking. When it comes to marijuana use, 24% said they had tried the drug.

But SADD doesn’t just focus on substance abuse. The group has invited guest speakers to the school, worked with the R.I. Department of Transportation to warn students about texting and driving and mentored elementary and middle school students.

Stephanie Forlini, who helped launch the group at Cranston West in 2013 and graduated from the University of Rhode Island in the spring, said she believes it’s important to strike a positive tone with students.

“I’d probably say that negative reinforcements and scare tactics don’t really work and studies show that,” she said when asked about advice for parents. “So just talk to your kids about the importance of surrounding themselves with positivity and the best for their future.”

Sarah Hobin, a junior at Cranston West, said she’s confident SADD’s message is reaching here fellow students.

“We’re trying to get across the message that destructive decisions are not a positive part of our high school experience,” she said. “You can have fun and have a great high school experience without surrounding yourself with drugs and alcohol and other illegal substances.”