Utah Guard Goes High Tech

to Teach Students about Freedom

 

Written by Maj. Hank McIntire

Published February 13, 2007

 

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Students at Jefferson Junior High School in Kearns meet for the "Freedom Calls" assembly Feb. 13.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Students at Jefferson Junior High School in Kearns

meet for the "Freedom Calls" assembly Feb. 13.

KEARNS, Utah Conviction. Courage. Ambition. Freedom.

These are a few of the themes touted by a new presentation for young teens, which is finding its way into junior high and middle schools around the state.

Produced by Motivational Productions and provided through the Utah National Guard, the three-screen multimedia package entitled “Freedom Calls” is catching the attention of 12- to 14-year-olds as they face decisions about drugs, alcohol and fitting in.

On Feb. 13 at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Kearns, Utah National Guard Family Programs director Chief Warrant Officer Annette Barnes began a special assembly by thanking students and teachers for their attendance. Barnes also drew attention to students with a parent or family member in the military by asking them to stand.

“Military kids serve too, right alongside their folks,” Barnes told the crowd. “You rub shoulders with these heroes every day and perhaps didn’t even know what they’re going through.”

And to the students with military ties Barnes said, “You are not alone. Look around. You have a support network even in your own school.”

Presenter Tech. Sgt. Paul Dedrickson of the Utah National Guard’s Drug Demand Reduction program then explained the purpose of the presentation.

Chief Warrant Officer Annette Barnes asks students with a military connection to stand and be recognized at the Freedom Calls assembly.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Chief Warrant Officer Annette Barnes asks students with a military connection to stand and be recognized at the Freedom Calls assembly.

“We’re not here to recruit you,” said Dedrickson, drawing a chuckle from the students. “We are here to help you learn about freedom—for your country and for yourself.”

Students were then treated to a 45-minute high-tech video experience which emphasized freedom, both national and personal.

Video host Sonny Kelly explained that national freedom is what others have provided to all of us as citizens of our county. He also highlighted the role of the military and the National Guard in securing and safeguarding that freedom.

Then Kelly talked about the freedom that individuals provide for themselves through wise and careful choices, often in the face of peer pressure and challenging circumstances.

Punctuating these points in the presentation were the stories of Megan Hakeman and Ashley Tang.

Hakeman, from South Dakota, struggled in her early teens in the aftermath of a sexual assault and became addicted to inhalants through an activity called “huffing.”

With the support of friends and family—and through Hakeman’s own realization that she herself determines the outcome of her life—she got into a treatment program, straightened her life out and graduated from high school.

Tech. Sgt. Paul Dedrickson speaks to students at Jefferson Junior High School prior to the video presentation.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Tech. Sgt. Paul Dedrickson speaks to students at Jefferson

Junior High School prior to the video presentation.

Ashley Tang, from Arizona, first lost her mother and then her father to cancer. An orphan at 14, Tang refused to leave her home to move in with relatives. Living alone and clinging to the memory of her parents she completed high school and reached her goal to become valedictorian of her class.

At the close of the presentation, the crowd cheered and applauded enthusiastically. And  students and teachers came away both impressed and better educated about freedom and choices.

Ninth-grader Alex was moved by the experiences of Hakeman and Tang.

“The stories hit me really hard. It was very touching that they went through all this stuff and were still strong in the end,” she said. “If kids watch this, they should really apply this in their own lives.”

Given, an eighth-grade student at Jefferson, will remember the principles of freedom he learned about in the presentation.

“I realized that freedom is not free,” he said. “I need to make smart choices so that I can be free.”

“I learned how to be strong in my struggles and learn from my mistakes,” said Vanessa, a ninth-grader and Jefferson student-body president. “I learned to stay focused in school and not do drugs.”

Teacher Chad Martin was in attendance along with his seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade Spanish and ESL students.

Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Kearns was one of many venues for "Freedom Calls" assemblies in 2007.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Kearns was one

of many venues for "Freedom Calls" assemblies in 2007.

“I hope my students will take away that what they do does matter and their choices change their lives, either for good or bad,” Martin said.

Utah Guard leaders first saw the presentation at a conference in Philadelphia last year and were anxious to have Utah students see it for themselves.

“We are excited to have it come to our state. We’ll be in 8 or 10 schools this year and hope to expand across the state next year,” said Barnes. “Anything we can do in this day and age to remind kids along the way to help them think before they act is always a good thing,”

“It’s a great tool. We’d love to get it into as many schools as we can,” Dedrickson added. “If we can get rid of the demand, hopefully we can win the war on drugs.”