A timely topic and memorable presentation propelled three Superior High School seniors to international DECA (an association of marketing students) competition in Florida. Their public relations project, "Don't Blow It," focused on teen vaping.
"At the beginning of the school year, we noticed this was a huge epidemic in our school and our community, so it was something we wanted to reach out and inform students and parents what these devices are and how they are harmful," said Jaylynn Glaus, who spearheaded the project with Chloe Kintop and Jackson Krull.
While vaping was an issue last spring, it hit epidemic proportions this fall.
"We noticed it was affecting the school more than last year," Krull said. "Like the fire alarms were going off a lot because of it."
It was a new subject to tackle and one that was very relevant, they said, because it was affecting their peers.
With the help of other students in the chapter, the teens traced local activity pinpointing the dangers of vaping devices: presentations at school conferences and in advisory periods; a new administration policy; and a two-page spread in the student newspaper, the Spartan Spin.
In January, the teens gave educational presentations on vaping to seventh-grade students at Superior Middle School.
"The presentation from the DECA students was a perfect connection to keep up with current trends," SMS health teacher Jill Anderson said. "Vaping is not just a high school issue."
Her seventh-grade students started asking her about e-cigarettes a few years ago.
"Students' perception of the liquid 'juice' was that it was harmless and smelled and tasted good," Anderson said. "What a great marketing ploy."
Educating students, staff and the community about e-cigarettes and vaping has become a mission of the school district, she said.
Prior to the presentation, the DECA students had the middle schoolers complete surveys.
"All of them said they were safe; they were better than smoking; they were just water vapor; they were fun," Glaus said. "Some people said their parents buy them for them."
One knew an 8-year-old who was vaping.
"That scared us," Glaus said.
Some vaping products are marketed as devices that don't have nicotine, she said, but even these devices have been found in research to have small traces - enough to start an addiction, but not so much it has to be listed on the label.
With fruity flavors like mango, Kintop said, it was clear kids were being targeted by the manufacturers.
The teens encouraged everyone to read up on vaping devices and be educated on their health effects before using them.
"Because once you do it, you can't really go back," Glaus said.
She and Kintop have been involved in DECA all four years of high school. It teaches students to use their creativity and enhances their communication and problem-solving skills, even if students don't plan a career in business.
"I think it prepares us for the real world perfectly," Kintop said.
"Any profession you get into, no matter what, you need those communication skills," said Krull, a first-year DECA student.
The SHS public relations project team is one of six statewide moving on to international competition April 27 in Orlando.