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Program helping teens make good choices

February 21, 2013
By Kathleen Palumbo , Town Crier correspondent

According to a recent press release, a partnership exists between Meridian Community Care and area school districts to sponsor PANDA Leaders Clubs, a prevention program in which students are given the knowledge and skills they need to make responsible decisions about the issues that affect them most today.

In an effort to combine the support of like-minded peers and action steps planned and implemented by club members to address specific problems within their school, the knowledge provides students with a sense of purpose and empowerment to resist the temptation to experiment with such negative behaviors as drugs and alcohol, bullying, and violence. The program also addressed the issues of depression, self-esteem, and more, playing a strong role in helping youth make positive choices and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A growing influence in the Boardman School district, PANDA has a presence at Glenwood Middle School, Center Middle School, Boardman High School, and also extends its influence to younger students in the Boardman district, with PANDA Leaders Club reaching out to students at Stadium Drive, West Boulevard, Market Street, and Robinwood elementary schools.

According to Courtney Abruzzino, guidance counselor at Glenwood Middle School, "PANDA used to be in existence a long while ago at BGMS, but recently was reinstated three years ago."

Calling the PANDA Leaders Club a school-based leadership club that empowers young people to make positive life choices, Abruzzino said in addition to helping students lead a healthy lifestyle and make life positive choices, it also assists them in finding trusted friends who feel the same way, gaining valuable leadership and communication skills, and working together to find solutions to school and community problems.

According to Abruzzino, Beth Bonish, Meridian Community Care PANDA coordinator, leads the PANDA meetings, held twice monthly, discussing issues that affect them in school. In addition, Abruzzino said each year, five to seven students attend PANDA Camp, held for three days each fall at Camp Muskingum. Sharing that the students who attend are then able to develop an action plan to address problems affecting students in the school, helping lead the club with the information they have gained from camp.

Panda Club activities and events include the PANDA Lock-In, held to engage students by recreating the camp experience. Planned and implemented by student leaders who attended camp, the event is held in conjunction with Center Middle School's PANDA Club. Additionally, Panda Partners is a program that trains student leaders to deliver positive messages and curriculum to elementary school students, and the Giving Tree, through which students contribute Christmas gifts to children in need for the community event Breakfast with Santa.

"With the support of the leadership in Boardman Schools, their PANDA program has set an example for other school districts in our area of how to run an effective program," said Larry Moliterno, CEO of Meridian Community Care. "We are proud to be partners with Boardman in building the next generation of leaders."

Additional information on PANDA can be obtained by calling Prevention by Meridian at 330-797-0070.



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