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Students start buzz with tobacco awareness ad

Northwestern High School DECA students Gwen LaPole, left, and Brooke Pearson send a larger than life message about kicking the tobacco habit as part of their public service project. The billboard can be seen near the intersection of County Highway P and U.S. Highway 2 in the village of Poplar. (Jed Carlson/

The message Northwestern High School DECA students are sending to the community this year is larger than life. Their "Kickin' Tobacco" billboard can be seen near the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and County Highway P on the outskirts of Poplar.

"I talked to the kids about trying to create a buzz," said NHS teacher Jody Forsythe, advisor for the school's DECA program, an association of marketing students. They decided to place the two teens helming the public service project -- Brooke Pearson and Gwen LaPole -- on an ad.

"The whole community knows these girls," Forsythe said. Students remember them from their class presentations; adults have gotten to know them as they've grown. "It will be fun to see what kind of response we get."

The project has been a real life lesson in stretching a budget for the students. Pearson and LaPole wrote a grant proposal that netted them $1,000 in state funding to combat alcohol and other drug abuse. Then they looked for ways to get the most bang for their buck, settling on the billboard ad.

The last time DECA students from Northwestern touted their anti-tobacco slogan on a billboard was nine years ago, Forsythe said, and that billboard was located in Superior.

"The location of this one is great because it's right by our school," the teacher said. "It's definitely going to impact our community."

The students got a discount on the advertisement, which shows them in their DECA shirts. It sports Tiger colors - black words on a gold background - and the message "Kickin' Tobacco: Living your life tobacco free makes this world healthy for you and me."

Along with the advertisement, LaPole and Pearson gave presentations to classes at Northwestern Elementary School. They will run a booth during a Red Ribbon Week event January at Northwestern Middle School. And they are holding a placemat art contest for elementary students. The winning artwork will be featured on the placemats of local restaurants.

"It's nice to see the different venues you can use to get the message out to the community," Forsythe said.