Our Seahawk SWAT chapter has been quite busy this school year keeping information about the dangers of tobacco in the forefront of our minds. SWAT, an acronym for Students Working Against Tobacco, is led by Seahawk staffer Dolores Croom, a veteran FranklinCountySchool employee, and she keeps the high school group busy all throughout the year with school and community activities, as well as events scheduled by their national organization.

One of their national events is Kick Butts Day which, according to Croom, “is a national day of activism that empowers youth to stand out and speak out against Big Tobacco.” This year, the event’s date, March 16, was right in the middle of our spring break; however our SWAT still observed the special day the week before Spring Break, as well as the week after.

Their Kick Butt events included preparing headstones with vital tobacco-related statistics written on them and placing them near the school's front entrance; conducting a poll amongst the Seahawk elementary teachers to determine their tobacco usage and for those who were, gathering data on how many wanted to quit; affixing a graffiti sheet on a wall in the front office area with the heading “Tobacco/Smoking Can Kill You!” and encouraging all tobacco-free SWAT members, faculty and staff to sign their names; and distributing tobacco cessation cards to those who wanted information about quitting.

Seahawk SWAT, active all year long, has also carried the tobacco-free message to local government agencies, visiting the Franklin County School Board during one of their meetings and sharing vital information as well as showing them special mats they’d purchased for the school.

They also implemented “Courthouse TakeOver.” With permission from Marcia Johnson, our Franklin County clerk of the court, the youth placed in every courthouse office and the entrance area receptacles, anti-tobacco literature. SWAT’s executive council also did this at the supervisor of elections’ office with Pinki Jackel, the supervisor, granting them permission to distribute the receptacles there, as well. They also gave Jackel and her staff SWAT Stress Balls.

SWAT’s ultimate goal is to make Franklin County tobacco-free and to this end, they’ve attended both city and county commission meetings soliciting support. In February, the executive council appeared before the county commissioners, presenting this body a plaque and thanking them for their support in helping them work towards this goal.

Other activities have included: “Though With Chew Week” with the team creating visual displays using student-created t-shirts that listed the ingredients that are in cigarettes, highlighting the devastating health issues that are possible from tobacco use.

They have also taken their anti-tobacco message to the media, making appearances on Channel 13, WMBB, and Channel 7, WJHG, over in Panama City, as well as being part of a live airing on the Power Country Radio station in Eastpoint.

Participating in parades also puts SWAT’s message out there and they marched in the Seafood Festival’s parade, as well as manning a booth at the festival. They also manned a booth at H’COLA      ‘s African-American History Festival, distributing lots of items to the festival attendees that displayed their tobacco message.

Joining forces with SWAT teams from across the area, members attended the annual Region I SWAT Retreat held each November in Laguna Beach. Members from 19 counties participated in the three-day event, a tremendous learning and fun weekend for the students.

Meeting twice a month at school, SWAT’s officers are President Brandon Walker, 1st Vice-President Trinity Hardy, 2nd Vice-President John White, and Chaplain Beyla Walker. As president of the group, Brandon, a senior says that “I am blessed to be put in the leader’s position of SWAT because I’m motivated to help this county be tobacco-free.”

Croom, who has been their advisor since the school opened, comments that her experiences with them are “totally enjoyable.” She adds that she has “a passion for working with the youth here at the school, for what SWAT advocates, and for what the group endeavors to do.” Croom further stated that her role as advisor is “really rewarding” and that the students all “work very hard to accomplish their goals” concluding that she is “very proud of their efforts.” Elinor Mount-Simmons, chair of the Franklin County Tobacco-Free Partnership Coalition witnessed SWAT’s Executive Council’s presentation at the monthly coalition meeting and comments that the group “always does a fabulous job in relating information of their monthly activities and I am incredibly proud of each of them.”

I’m sure you read in last week’s paper about the change in leadership with our principal’s role due to Principal Kris Bray being out for the remainder of the year because of medical issues. Sue Summers, our school district’s director of special programs, was tapped by Superintendent Nina Marks to fill the role, however that has changed. Assistant Principal Harolyn Walker will now take over the position as acting principal, according to Marks, and the announcement was made to the faculty and staff last Wednesday afternoon. Walker, a Franklin County native, has worked at the school since its inception, first as reading coach and assistant principal, so she is no stranger amongst the students, faculty and staff. She said she is “thankful for the opportunity” and “excited and ready to take on this responsibility” adding that she is “looking forward to continuing to work with the Seahawk family, here on campus and throughout the community.”

Coming up in and around Seahawk Nation: Thursday, April 7 - PTO Quarterly Meeting; Friday, April 8 - Pulled Pork Cheerleader Fundraiser.

That’s the news for this week’s article. Until next week . . . keep soaring!

A longtime classroom teacher in the Franklin County Schools, reporter Elinor Mount-Simmons penned a regular column for the Times for many years, and now writes Seahawk News on behalf of the Franklin County Schools.