Heroin use, suicide, gender equality — these topics saturate conversations in Juneau and around the nation, but another unlikely place they’re showing up is an eighth grade classroom in Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School.
Stella Tallmon, 13, and Portia Carney, 14, decided to delve into the topic of heroin use in Juneau for a language arts project this month. The assignment wasn’t just an essay or a presentation — the duo created a digital media campaign that included interviews with leaders from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, local law enforcement, Gov. Bill Walker and community activists.
“Fifteen percent of heroin deaths in Alaska happen in Juneau,” Tallmon said with a look of shock on her face. “Alaska is so big and that percentage is from here.”
The girls presented a four-minute video on the topic during a community campaign fair at the middle school Thursday. Their video played on loop while they handed out pamphlets with information about crime and drug statistics.
“Kids that are educated about drug abuse are much less likely to become addicted,” they wrote in their pamphlet.
Michele Morgan, the founder of the Juneau-Stop Heroin, Start talking group, couldn’t agree more with that information.
“This is the generation right here that can make a change,” Morgan said, calling the two girls warriors for an important cause in the community. “They’re creating material that this generation can relate to.”
Across the classroom another group of students that called themselves “operation menstruation” collected tampons, pads and panty liners for impoverished women in the community. They have a collection box at school and inside Safeway for donations.
In a room of their peers — boys and girls alike — the trio wasn’t afraid to talk about the basic needs of women that are often unfulfilled if finances are an issue.
“They’re so expensive,” said Chloe McAdams, 14, of the feminine hygiene products they were collecting. “It’s such a taboo topic, but there’s a sales tax on feminine hygiene product, like they’re non-essential.”
The girls will take the donations they’ve collected at the end of next week to the Glory Hole shelter and to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank.
Talking about drugs and the hygiene needs of homeless people isn’t beyond the scope of what eighth graders can handle, said Tracy Goldsmith, a language arts teacher at Dzantik’i Heeni. She said she was confident the young teens would only delve as far into the topics as they could handle for their age group. The topics were also selected by the students, she said.
“Kids have more passion than people give them credit for,” Goldsmith said. “They have knowledge that these (issues) exist.”
This is only the second year Goldsmith assigned students the campaign project, but she suspects she will continue it in some capacity in years to follow. Students from various grade levels and parents in the community were invited to view the videos that students made Thursday.
Some students, such as Tallmon and Carney, said they plan on taking their efforts to other community events to stay active and spread the word that something needs to be done about heroin in the community and that kids do care.
• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or email@example.com.