Thinking of Dreamland, everyone probably thinks of something different, some may think of it as a place of rest, others, simply think of somewhere where everything is great and there are no problems.
Many teachers and parents, sometimes feel their students and children live in a dreamland, because they aren’t listening or paying attention, but at South Webster High School, the students were not in dreamland, they were attentive and involved and wanted to find out how to make a difference in their own community.
It all started with Judy Ellsesser(English) and Cyndy Hykes(Government) two of South Webster’s High School teachers, that got together a summer ago and began planning to teach a cross-curricular unit. Part of their premise was all about living and helping in a small town community.
Hykes had read Hillbilly Elegy and someone said to her that she ought to read Dreamland, The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones “I started looking at Dreamland and felt that it was something that Judy and I could really use. We usually do our cross curricular unit after Christmas break. We had received so much good feedback that we wanted to start the beginning of this year with the unit.
She said that it was a good foundation, because it lets the kids know they care where they are coming from. Hykes brought up that there are so many good things in this unit.
“We are always looking for something that will help us better understand how to turn around our kids’ self-image, living in appalachia.”
The next thing that happened, to bring this unit forward, was that National Public Radio got involved, through a man named Marty Blank. He is from Washington D.C., he works through the Institute of Educational Leadership and had heard what the ladies were doing from a teacher in the elementary school. Jackie DeCamp must have been attending a conference he was attending and then in his blog, Marty Blank, wrote about it in the Huffington Post.
NPR host of Weekend Edition Saturday,Scott Simon, had seen it in the Post and he emailed them right before school started and the ladies started talking to him by phone and it was interesting, because the first time they talked to him, he wanted to set up an interview on a Friday afternoon, and as they talked more and more about South Webster and what a great community it was, he said, “I got a great idea, what if we came to your school?” And, that is how this all evolved for this day’s talk.
The students of both Ellsesser and Hykes were then set-up to have a talk session with Bill Raison, who is the fire chief of the Portsmouth Fire Department. Simon’s National Radio Broadcast show with Ian Stewart, was taping during this session.
Many of the discussions were about these problems in their own community of South Webster.
The students were asking about narcan and how it saves someone. Raison, said that there are receptors in your brain that tell your body to breath and then, the heroin and fentanyl attach to these receptors and interfere with them. What naloxone and narcan does is, that they knock the heroin off the receptors and allow your body systems to work normally and your body then say, “okay, it’s time to breath again.”
The problem he said, “is when we give this to people and then they don’t want to go to the hospital, it can wear off and if they have enough of the opioid in their system, they literally can overdose again.” He told them they are always trying to get people to go to the hospital, but they do have the right to refuse treatment and sometimes they do.
A variety of reasons keep them doing that, may be being afraid of prosecution, if the police aren’t there, sometimes they are there, but not always. They also don’t want to have problems, once they get to the hospital. One of the good things that is happening now, is that everyone is trying to get people to try to get help and try to get people to break the addiction. Addiction is the problem, and so many people don’t understand that.
One of the students asked that if you overdose on heroin, and then wake up, do they automatically go to prison and Raison said,“no.”
Ellsesser then brought up that in her English class, they brought up victims. She was said, as far as she put it, first responders who may touch the drug that has that fentanyl in it, that it is so powerful, that if they touch it, it can pass through their skin.
Raison said that that was a huge concern all over and for his responders, and himself. He says they work with the responders, looking around them and the situation, before automatically going to the person who may not be breathing, for this very reason. There could be needles there or a plate with heroin in it, just lying around. He brought up that it can even absorb through latex gloves, which they do not use.
The discussion went on to the costs to communities to keep purchasing and using the narcan and others to revive people.
The students and Raison also discussed together the thing some people call the three strikes you’re out, where a lot of communities or people think that after the third time overdosing, you should be on your own, without help. The issue with that is, they discussed was that some of these people are far removed from the problem so they think or see ways to just stop helping, because they are not affected.
Ellsesser told the students a situation where, what would they do without their cell phone, and they aren’t even addicted to them. “Addiction is real, you just have to bring it down to the level you can relate.”
Raison talked with about the power of addiction, that if you removed one drug, the addicts will just find another. “We’ve gotta fix people to fix the problem, you can’t just take the drug away.”
The discussion continued with the issue of community and how that having a small community, where people know everyone and how that can help, when people work together as a community.
Raison, spoke about how people invest in other people, and said that people invested in him and made him know he had value and a future. And that people in a community can do this.
Hykes brought up that in “Dreamland,” it tries to point the reader to that when communities are fractured and people begin to feel isolated and alone, they become less hopeful and more susceptible in trying to find a way out. It’s kind of desperation to find a fix with a pill or whatever drug, but it is a desperation.
The students were asked on break what they were getting out of this session and they had some interesting things to say:
“When we first started talking about the heroin problem, I had no idea that it was as bad as it was, and it was hard for me to see their perspective, because I’ve never had anything like that in my close family. And now, I can see their point of view, that it’s not easy to just stop, you have to understand, that they need help and they need hope. Some people may think it pointless to care about them, ‘cause they are not going to get better, if you give them hope, it might give them the motivation to be better.” – Hannah Spurgeon
“I think it’s important that we reach out to our younger people of this community, to try to stop and control it, like Bill Raison said, if we help them, they will see that it can get better and they may pass it on.” – Lakin Brown
“My perspective is like from the fire department and someone who has seen in the community, the drugs and why we hear about such things as drugs in Portsmouth and locally, it clarifies what we needed and needed to do to change it.” – Jaden Milan
“I think it goes back to where he said that we need to change the conversation, instead of everything being the negative, we need to focus on the positive things about it, like how people do recover, instead of they have to respond to the Narcan, people do recover and we need to pay more attention to it.” – Tanner Holbrook
“He’s right, but then again, if you don’t focus on the negatives, there can’t be positives. Both sides of the argument are really good, but I think we need to get a mix of negative, ‘ cause we’re like everything’s good and we don’t pay attention to the negatives and then there’s no way to fix the negatives…” – Dylan Bond
“It’s really cool that as a Community like South Webster, with us being a community, we can help the problem and make it better.” – Emily Sessor
“I believe that with NPR and Bill Raison being here, we are learning something we did not learn from “Dreamland,” overall crisis, and it’s a good thing to know, glad that we’re learning this.” – Raegan Cooper
“I think that I’m getting information that I never knew about the whole opioid addiction. I never really thought that this all started with community, maybe this is just a side-effect and not the root problem.” – Olivia Messer
“The only thing that is really surprising me is like how the children have to take responsibility a lot of the time. A lot of the adults are acting like children and that really gets under my skin. Whenever I hear that the children have to be raising their younger siblings, it’s like they’re the adults.” – Megan Varney
And out of the mouth of babes, come some of the most integrative and unique comments of how they, even as just young people themselves, can help solve these problems in their own community.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928