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Marijuana tax money funds program at Woodland Park schools that teaches kids about bad decisions

Marijuana tax money funds program at Woodland Park schools that teaches kids about bad decisions

The Gazette

Learning sometimes sneaks up on kids.

That's the beauty of Think Fast Interactive, a national program that teaches students in a non-traditional way about underage marijuana use, texting and driving, and other bad decisions youth often make.

"There's a lot of scare tactics involved with this sort of education, and kids start to build a wall. We're not beating them over the head with our format," said Think Fast Interactive host Johnny C.

He and his crew are in Colorado from New York City presenting the multimedia trivia game to students and parents at more than 30 schools across the state.

Secondary students in Woodland Park School District RE-2 heard the program this week.

It's being paid for by $216,000 in recreational marijuana tax money awarded to El Paso and Teller counties.

Early Tuesday morning, 588 Woodland Park Middle School students were on their feet, clapping and yelling as loudly as they could, as they worked in teams of six to answer trivia questions about pop culture, music and movies.

The awareness program uses an MTV-style production set, mainstream music and videos.

Students were so engrossed in what they were doing, they fielded questions about problems associated with marijuana as deftly as those about One Direction, Star Wars and SpongeBob SquarePants.

"They learn the material because they're engaged," Johnny C. said after the all-school assembly.

Days later, they'll still be talking about the experience, and that tells Johnny C. that "it's working," he said. "They're getting the message, and it's still in their head."

Students used high-tech controllers to submit their answers, which were immediately tallied and announced. They competed for gift cards.

"It was really good. It was fun and interactive," said sixth grader Jeremy Cefus.

Did he learn anything?

"Marijuana is really bad for you and can kill you," he said, which he "partially knew" before the assembly.

Roughly 15 percent of the sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Woodland Park Middle School indicated during the presentation that they have been exposed to marijuana.

That doesn't surprise Sean Goings, the district's safety and security director.

The state's voter-approved legalization of recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and over in November 2012 has created a "battle," he said.

"The kids see the adults doing it, and it becomes accepted, the norm," Goings said. "So we have to keep educating them about the adverse effects."

Teller County has one medical marijuana retail shop in Divide but has banned recreational marijuana retail sales, cultivation and production of edibles.

Woodland Park Police Chief Miles De Young said Woodland Park ranks fourth statewide for kids using the drug, according to a report on the impacts of legalization from Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Most students obtain their marijuana from a friend who gets it legally, or from their parents or siblings, according to 2015 surveys.

The combination of legalization, easy access and acceptability have contributed to increased use among teens, De Young said. Slightly more than one in 10 of Colorado's youth ages 12 to 17 are considered active users, which is 56 percent higher than the national average.

"Just saying, 'Don't do drugs' doesn't work. They have to make the decision on their own," De Young said.

Students learned during the fast-paced presentation that getting convicted of possessing or using marijuana can prevent them from obtaining federal loans or scholarships for college and that marijuana can affect their brain, memory, coordination, lungs and heart and alter the senses, moods and problem-solving abilities.

"I thought it was all going to be about drugs, but it was fun and cool," said eighth grade student Dylan Ham, the grand prize winner in the trivia game.