On February 6th, 2020, Wye River students made a powerful statement against flavored tobacco and nicotine products at the State House in Annapolis. They spoke on behalf of HB3 and SB233 which propose to ban the manufacture, sale and import of all flavors of tobacco and nicotine products. This includes candy-scented vaping products and e-cigarettes, which have rapidly gained popularity among young people.
Matthew Cowan, WRUS Director of Education, prioritizes civic engagement and attended the event to show his support: “It is critical that students of the 21st century not only learn about the systems and processes of government but engage authentically with the legislative process. Every year Wye River Upper School students pursue real-world inquiry and research into current legislative issues culminating in a day of civic advocacy. This sort of experiential learning, a hallmark of our program, doesn’t just cultivate those critical college literacy skills, but fosters a new generation of engaged citizens.”
Led by Social Studies teacher Lydia Meeks, Government students prepared extensively to make their voice heard. First, they met with Laura Hale of the American Heart Association who sparked their interest in the bill. She and Ms. Meeks encouraged students not to underestimate the power of their collaborative voice when advocating for themselves and their peers. Students researched the dangers of flavored vaping and tobacco as well as the lobbying process, and wrote persuasive, data-backed essays in preparation for their visit to Annapolis. Meeks remarked, “What better way to engage kids in Government class than involve them in the process?”
According to Ms. Meeks, students learned that flavors like mango, gummy bear and cotton candy strategically entice teens whose brains are not fully developed, which allows them to more easily become addicted. Her students write, “Teens are especially drawn to vaping products because of the social media campaigns involved and the ability to hide the products from adults in their lives. . .Once addicted the changes in a teen’s brain are permanent. Quitting nicotine becomes a lifelong struggle.”
This knowledge, their sense of injustice for being targeted, and their personal experiences with family and friends fueled a passion for them to speak out, Meeks explained. “I think that finding a cause to sink their teeth into has helped them produce exceptional work that is meaningful–Government should be meaningful.”
Meeks guided students to channel their findings and resolve into one cohesive, persuasive letter to the Senate and House, signed by each. Sophomores Cole of Edgewater, Sam of Cambridge, and Kayla of Annapolis also prepared individual, evidence-based statements to be read before the committee. On the day of lobbying, Wye River partnered with the American Cancer Society who established meetings, and students spoke with or delivered their letter to the 31 Delegates and Senators who represent them across the state. Wye River is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside ACSCAN and the AHA on this important and timely matter, and we are proud of our students for taking action.
HB3 is still in committee, and SB233 goes before the Senate on Thursday, February 13th. Wye River Government students are following both bills and eagerly await the results. WRUS is headed back to Annapolis on Feb. 20th for Decoding Dyslexia Day, a day of advocacy to raise awareness of the critical importance of early detection and intervention for students struggling to read.
Wye River Upper School is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is focused on students who learn differently discovering through innovation, developing with rigor, and celebrating their strengths while preparing for success in college, career, and life. Students who attend Wye River come from eleven Maryland and Delaware counties including Queen Anne’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George’s and Caroline, and accepts students on a rolling basis. For more information visit www.wyeriverupperschool.org or call 410.758.2922.
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