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Washington Voices

East Valley has largest Washington Drug-Free Youth chapter

Members of the East Valley High School Washington Drug-Free Youth puppet troupe include from left, Cally King, Searra Cameron, Jon Merkel, Mickell Rigsby, Jessica Rabe, Morgan Hendricks and Kendall Bancroft. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Members of the East Valley High School Washington Drug-Free Youth puppet troupe include from left, Cally King, Searra Cameron, Jon Merkel, Mickell Rigsby, Jessica Rabe, Morgan Hendricks and Kendall Bancroft. (J. Bart Rayniak)

There are 336 students at East Valley High School pledging to be free of drugs or alcohol.

They aren’t just paying lip-service, either.

The students are all members of East Valley’s Washington Drug-Free Youth chapter, the largest in the state for the last four years.

It’s completely voluntary and to join, members must submit to a drug test at the beginning of the school year. Students are then randomly selected for drug tests throughout the school year. Both the student and his or her parents must sign a permission slip.

Members of the group say joining WDFY sends a strong message to adults in their lives.

“We’re proud to be in WDFY,” said Cally King, a junior. She and a small group of the chapter gathered recently to talk about why they joined. Most of them said they have no interest in smoking pot or drinking, and by joining they get discounts at local restaurants and a free T-shirt.

King said the group gets to participate in drug-free events such as bowling and ice cream socials. They also visit local elementary schools and talk about why it’s OK and even cool not to drink or do drugs.

King said the most common question she gets from the kids is whether they will fit in to the school if they join.

The Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council often provides puppets the students use to present skits and plays to the younger students.

“They are like rock stars,” said Terrie Austin of GSSAC. She said the younger kids look up to the teens and even ask for their autographs.

At the elementary school age, many of the kids may think all teenagers drink and do drugs. She said exposing them to teenagers who don’t sends a positive message to them.

“Yes, some teens do use, but most don’t,” Austin said.

Austin said there are around 2,500 student members of WDFY in Spokane County. Austin said that some teens who join may have had problems with using in the past, but joining WDFY and testing clean is a way to earn back some trust they may have lost from the adults in their lives.

Some of the kids have lost family members or friends. Some teens look at joining as something to use in job interviews or their college applications.

“They work really hard,” Austin said. “It’s an opportunity to work on something positive in their community.”

At East Valley, the chapter’s adviser is Joe Kostecka, assistant principal of activities and athletics. He said when the school first started a WDFY program there were only 21 students involved. It grew from there every year.

The first few days of the school year are busy, since more than 300 students take their drug tests. He said he hosts a pizza night and gets many parents to help.

He keeps a refrigerator full of soda and water, plus plenty of snacks for the students in his office. He also has a weekly drawing for a small treat.

“I make sure these kids are rewarded,” he said.

Although his program is successful, he said maybe one student a year will fail their drug test. When this happens, he must send a letter to the student’s parents and sit down and talk about what needs to be done. He added that when this happens, usually the student has already admitted to using to his or her parents. They also have to turn in their membership card, but they have the option of starting over the next school year.

Kostecka also said even though he’s director of athletics and activities he can’t use a dirty test to punish students involved with sports.

“It’s not a punitive deal for the sports program,” he said. When this has happened in the past, the student has stepped up to the team and took themselves out of the sport.

The students can also use WDFY as the answer to what to say if they feel pressure to use.

“Tell them Kostecka will kill you,” Kostecka joked.

Austin said every school has its own program for their students.

At Mt. Spokane, adviser Nancy Butz said the school starts a push for membership before each new sports season begins. Right now, they have around 80 members, but that number is expected to grow as the school year continues.

By the end of last year, the school had 200 students involved.

As the cheerleading and dance team adviser, Butz encourages her students to join.

“It really is the coach that has important contact with the kids,” she said.

The students at East Valley agree with Butz. If asked about the best part about being in WDFY, they will tell you it is Kostecka.

“He’s always just so supportive,” said senior Searra Cameron. “Not just in WDFY.”