EASTON, Md. — Even as they acclimated themselves to a brand new building, Saints Peter and Paul High School students embraced another challenge: Taking a practical stand against substance abuse.
Longtime campus minister Vicki Cappa’s De Spiritus class spearheaded the school’s partnership with “Talbot Goes Purple,” an awareness and educational prevention program, launched in 2016. The program is designed to empower youth and the community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse, according to talbotgoespurple.org.
The program has since expanded from Talbot County throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore counties.
The 16 seniors in Cappa’s De Spiritus leadership skills class went purple in a big way.
The purple push began Friday, Sept. 24, and continued until Friday, Oct. 1, when students delivered thank you notes, bagels, donuts and snacks to the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office in Easton.
The school’s purple week featured serious information about substance abuse, but also included fun activities to bring home the message. Students exchanged their uniforms for a purple fundraising dress-down day with a Chick-fil-A lunch and ice cream truck, and principal Jim Nemeth even sported a “very tiny” purple hair extension, Cappa said.
The De Spiritus class “planned the whole week and got the rest of the student body involved,” she said. Students decorated a table in the school’s foyer with “white pumpkins splashed with purple,” and purple lights. Purple irises surrounded a statue of the Blessed Mother.
The sheriff’s office supplied window stickers and decals, and senior Caleb Fritzsche created wallet-sized cards containing hotline numbers.
“And then a student made this really cool wooden box with a little lock on it” for donations to Talbot Goes Purple, Cappa said.
Students also wrote their names in gold or silver ink on a large sign. Gold meant that the student has lost someone to substance abuse; silver represented knowing someone who was or is addicted. “It was powerful to see how everybody has somebody,” Cappa said. “That kind of bond with each other — that we’re all going through it, and that we’ve all experienced it to some extent — that was powerful.”
Students invited Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble and deputies to kick off the week’s activities on Sept. 24.
“Ss. Peter and Paul has been a great partner for us, (along with) Talbot County Public Schools, Mid-Shore Community Foundation and Tidewater Rotary, in getting our message out,” Gamble said. “We’re just thrilled that Ss. Peter and Paul took last week to really impress upon and further educate kids on the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol, and (recognizing) the signs of addiction.”
Gamble shared “personal experiences in Talbot County regarding (local high school students who) have struggled with addiction … and what to look out for,” he said.
“We talked about the Good Samaritan Law, where young people can call 911 when one of their friends is in trouble, if they’ve drank too much or overdosed or something like that. Nobody can get arrested,” Gamble said. For more information about the Maryland law, click here.
“We’re always happy to try to get those messages out and try to educate (students),” Gamble said. “A couple of kids afterwards asked me some questions, and that was a great way to kick off their purple week.”
In the middle of purple week, K9 Cairo, handled by DFC Donald Johnson, participated in “a drug demo and a bite demo. The kids loved it,” Gamble said.
“We had an absolutely fantastic week, and the kids did a spectacular job,” Cappa said.
“I think it just brought a greater sense of awareness to the drug problem that we have in our community, and the things that they can do to help with that initiative,” she said. “It also teaches them different things they didn’t know about how quickly you can become addicted.”
The Talbot Goes Purple effort includes “purple clubs” in middle and high schools through which students learn they don’t need drugs or alcohol to meet life’s challenges.
Cappa was impressed with the initiative of other Ss. Peter and Paul students who launched their own efforts to help promote the cause.
New student and junior Catherine Langton won the Talbot Goes Purple T-shirt design contest sponsored by Spring & Associates of Easton. Ss. Peter and Paul students won first and third place for short videos they developed for the county initiative.
In January, then-sophomore Maguire Perry won first place for his informative video titled “Help Save Lives.” The Class of 2022’s Ben McCalmon’s more dramatic “A Friend’s Nightmare” took third place in the contest sponsored by Spring & Associates. The videos are posted on the Talbot Goes Purple Facebook page.
“It was almost like the grace of God that, as I was talking to students throughout the week, I found out all these great things that our students have done,” Cappa said.
“And it was so nice for the student body to see, because I think it teaches them that they don’t have to wait to hear it from school; they can take initiative on their own and do things for the community,” she said.
Seeing their impact helped her De Spiritus class members understand their leadership roles.
“I think it was powerful for the kids just to see what they can do,” Cappa said. “In my class I am basically an advisor, listening to their ideas and helping them to follow through with them, teaching them how to get up in front of the student body to speak about an issue. So I think all of those things were good for the class, but in general I think it really touched the student body and just brought a greater sense of awareness and things that they could do to help.”