One person makes a difference

Published 5:11 pm Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sometimes all it takes is one individual committed to making a difference.

That’s just the part Lakeland High School student Hunter Turley has played in Suffolk Public Schools this year. This one committed individual — a high school student motivated by a desire to see his father quit smoking — has succeeded in advocating a broad anti-smoking agenda for the entire school system.

Hunter is a member of Y Street, a teen volunteer program that is part of the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. Following a presentation by that organization, he came up with the idea to pursue a stricter policy against tobacco in and around schools. He spoke at the December School Board meeting, urging members to consider tightening the system’s no-smoking regulations.

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Formerly, the division’s policy restricted smoking, chewing or any other use of tobacco products by staff and students on school property. However, it also gave the superintendent authority to provide for designated smoking areas on school grounds outside buildings. Students were prohibited from possessing tobacco on school property, including school buses, or during school activities, and school employees were prohibited from using tobacco while in the presence of students on school property or while participating in a school-sponsored activity.

But Hunter felt the system needed to send a stronger message against the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes. He convinced the School Board to agree to remove the designated smoking areas, include on- and off-site school events in the prohibition, to require consequences for visitors who violate the policy and to treat electronic cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes.

There will be announcements at school events, notifying visitors of the policies against smoking on school grounds, and Y Street has said it will provide signs to the school system to help let folks know about the change.

Many smokers can look back to their youth and recall a person they revered who smoked. While all smokers eventually made their own decisions to pick up cigarettes, the influence of those example-setters cannot be ignored.

Though it might not have been his intention, Hunter Turley has himself set an example for his fellow students to follow in terms of community service and engagement. And, by making itself only the 21st of about 125 school systems around the commonwealth to institute such a comprehensive no-smoking policy, Suffolk Public Schools also has set a positive example and has confirmed for everyone that, sometimes, one committed individual really can make a real difference.