ST. MARYS — Students and their parents saw firsthand the possible outcomes of using drugs during the ‘Reality Tour’ last night at the St. Marys Area Middle School. Featuring dramatic performances and supplemented by informative presentations, the program was presented these last two weeks to sixth graders in the district and from Elk County Catholic Schools.

The program has been presented annually by other area school districts, but had never before been produced at St. Marys. It’s likely to become an yearly fixture at St. Marys, too, said Middle School Assistant Principal Dan Vollmer.

“The reaction has been really good,” Vollmer said. “Even some kids have commented in school and to their parents that they weren’t really looking forward to coming, but it was a lot better than they had expected.”

Material for the program was developed by CANDLE, Inc., an anti-drug outfit based in Butler, Pa. The presentation at St. Marys featured appearances from members of the St. Marys Police Department and Ambulance Service in dramatized scenes.

Also appearing in those scenes students from the high school. In the spotlight was Shawn Walsh, playing the part of a student whose drug use landed him in jail and, eventually, the grave.

Students and parents followed Walsh’s characters through sets of a jail cell, ambulance and funeral home set up in the middle school. While one group toured through these scenes, the others saw presentations and videos on the opioid crisis and other major drug issues.

Vollmer previously said that while the program confronts some mature topics, it is not intended to scare students. St. Marys Police Sgt. Tom Nicklas said that by bringing real emergency services workers into the fold, the program provides a more realistic look at drug abuse.

“They’ve lived this and they’ve worked in this environment,” he said. “You bring that real-world experience into it, and you’re not just acting the part; you really know what goes on.”

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