By Victoria Espinoza
The halls of the W. J. Brosnan Building were roaring with cheers Monday night as elementary students in Northport learned how to have fun and stay drug free during a game night hosted by the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force.
Kids from all five of the elementary schools in the district battled for prizes in Family Feud, dance competitions and more, while also learning about ways to avoid peer pressure and enjoy a drug-free life. Parents of the students sat in the audience to cheer on the contestants.
Anthony Ferrandino, co-chair of the task force, said the group wanted to do something in the realm of prevention, aimed at fifth-graders who are transitioning to middle school.
“We wanted to hit the younger kids with the prevention message but do it a little bit differently, where they were having fun while learning,” Ferrandino said in a phone interview. “We wanted to show the kids, if you don’t do drugs you can have fun.”
The co-chair said he got in touch with Kym Laube, the executive director of Human Understanding and Growth Services, or HUGS, a group aimed at prevention efforts, who told him about the program she ran in another school district.
“I said that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Ferrandino said. He sent out surveys for all the students to complete in school, which became the answers in Family Feud, and the students created posters on being drug free and some even came up with a rap they performed during the dance contest.
“This was a unique way to send a message to the kids,” Ferrandino said. “We’re trying to start a positive culture because there’s so much negative energy.”
Laube, who Ferrandino described as “the queen of prevention,” said this type of interactive concept is successful at getting families and kids on the same page.
“He [Ferandino] took it to a whole other level though,” she said in a phone interview. “He turned it into more than just a one evening event. This culminated into weeks of learning about prevention — it reinforces the information. When young people get together and have fun and experience a natural high, it just reinforces what the school is trying to do.”
Laube was the host of Family Feud and said the event was a total success.
“It was a blast,” she said. “Fifth graders have such an intense energy, and to see the joy of their parents watching their children have fun and be free, it was great. It was also a great showcase for what the task force is working to accomplish.”
Ferrandino said he agreed the night was great. Students won prizes like a pizza party for their school, tickets to Adventureland, laser tag and more alternative activities to have fun instead of drug use.
“It was awesome,” he said. “The dance-off was planned for 15 minutes, and the kids could’ve gone for more than an hour. The hidden gem was really all the prevention work that was done weeks before last night, all the work the elementary counselor did ahead of time.”