By Kaitlin Fleming, Staff Correspondent
America currently faces a drug crisis like never before. In 2016 alone, over 60,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. However, the students at Southside Elementary School are working to fight the drug epidemic in Etowah County.
The City of Southside Police Department, Kenny Keenum, Joey Statumn, Becky Nordgren, Morgan Cunningham, Tim Choate, Mack Butler, Jody Willoughby, Todd Clough, Ryan Preston, Scott Hassell, Craig Inzer Jr., Jack’s Family Restaurant in Southside, Stephens Express Mart, Chad Ellis and the City of Southside recently partnered together with Southside Elementary School to bring drug awareness to 5th graders.
Together they planned the second annual Too Good for Drugs picnic as a finale to the Too Good for Drugs program at Southside Elementary School. This program includes fun and informative curriculum about the dangers of drug abuse and focuses on good decision-making, resisting peer pressure and cultivating healthy communication and relationships with others. Student Resource Officer Lieutenant Clay Johnson teaches the program.
The picnic took place on May 17 at Keenum Farms in Ohatchee. Kenny Keenum, owner of Keenum Farms, opened his farm and pond for students to celebrate their good decisions and friendships.
“I want the kids to remember this day for the rest of their lives as something they accomplished by learning the importance of staying drug free,” said Keenum.
This marks the second year that Keenum has opened his farm gates to children from Southside Elementary School.
Several local community leaders were in attendance, including Etowah County District Attorney Jody Willoughby, candidate for circuit judge Morgan Cunningham, candidate for Etowah County Commission Craig Inzer Jr., and many more.
“I think programs like this one [Too Good for Drugs] is such an important tool for our community,” said D.A. Jody Willoughby. “It’s important for kids to learn about the dangers of drugs early on. I want these kids to know that if they see someone doing something bad, not just drugs, any crime, that they can trust adults and tell them what they see.”
Willoughby and other community leaders helped the 5th graders bait their fishing lines. Southside Elementary School student, Brandon Hammond decided to bring his own bait, and as a result caught three large fish. Other students opted to relax out by the lake and eat snow cones with their friends.
“If we could catch the drug problem early, like at this age, we stand a chance of ending the problem,” said Morgan Cunningham. “If I could go back to when I was this age, I would tell myself to be stronger and be a leader in everything I do. I’d tell myself to stand up for myself and others and not give in to the peer pressure.”
Southside Elementary Assistant Principal Chris Melton was at the event with his daughter and the other 91 students.
“We don’t see a drug problem at this age, but once these students hit middle school they see it,” said Melton. “I hope these kids take to heart the lessons we’ve been hammering away at. When they face that peer pressure, I hope they remember today and remember that they can and should say no.”
SRO Lieutenant Clay Johnson said that the school plans to continue this program in the hopes that the students will carry these lessons up to middle school, high school and beyond.
“I’m really thankful for all the sponsors we have,” said Johnson. “They’re really impacting the lives of these students.”