Coalitions in Action: Youth Create a “Keep Your Focus” Marijuana Awareness Campaign

In south central Connecticut, the Durham Middlefield Local Wellness Coalition created the “Keep Your Focus” marijuana awareness campaign, pioneered and steered by youth in conjunction with a marketing company partnership.

“This project was very much youth-driven. They felt there was a need to change social norms in their high school around marijuana use,” said Haley Shoop, Prevention Coordinator at Durham Middlefield Local Wellness Coalition. “Their voice was crucial in planning every detail of this campaign.”

Durham and Middlefield are two Connecticut towns with a combined area of 37 square miles and combined population of 11,797. While the area has great school systems, the large farm and wooded areas give youth opportunities to use substances in hidden locations and some parents are unaware that their children are using at all. With the legalization of marijuana in Connecticut looming, the youth decided that there needed to be an important and educational message campaign about the harmful effects of marijuana.

The students wanted a message with a direct quote from them, feeling that their friends and peers would be more receptive. They felt strongly that many of their peers did not think marijuana was harmful and fewer thought driving while under the influence of marijuana was dangerous. Many students stated that they were bombarded with social media advertisements favoring the consumption of marijuana-related products and that the legalization for recreational use of marijuana has given the impression that it is “safe” to use.

“The students felt strongly that they were not being well-informed on all of the negative or harmful effects of marijuana, specifically drugged driving,” said Shoop. “Miranda Creative, a marketing firm, listened to their concerns and helped develop graphics to make their message stand out among their peers and throughout the community.”

The initial launch of the campaign began with two large vinyl banners in high traffic areas at the local high school. During National Prevention Week (May 14 – 20), both middle and high school students promoted the campaign by putting magnets on all the lockers with the “Keep Your Focus” tagline and Instagram account handle. They also participated in lunch activities, read drug facts for announcements, hosted a school assembly, and put window clings in the high school classrooms.

The youth used social media as a platform to promote the campaign, above the influence messages and other positive images to combat ads favorable to substance use and other risky behaviors. The students plan to create a Snapchat filter with the tagline “Keep Your Focus” to promote at the high school graduation.

In May, the youth presented their campaign to members of the coalition, parents, teachers, key community leaders, and local media. The campaign also gained recognition from neighboring communities, one of which requested to use the driving-themed message to display on a billboard in their community.

Following the campaign, almost three-fourths of the students (74 percent) agreed that they are more aware of the risks around driving while using marijuana and 72 percent of the students are more aware of the impact marijuana use has on motor skills and reaction times.

“The students are very proud of what they have accomplished and feel they have a voice among their peers. They do not want to see their friends make poor or uninformed decisions,” said Shoop. “This campaign has brought new momentum to the group and allowed them to feel like they are starting to make a difference.”