OVERVIEW        THE RECOVERING ADDICTS        THE PARENT        THE JUDGE        THE FIRST RESPONDER        THE SCHOOL

South Webster High School teachers Judy Ellsesser, left, and Cyndy Hykes, right, pose for a portrait in Judy's classroom. The pair designed a class for their junior students to learn about the opioid epidemic. The students read the book Dreamland by Sam Quinones, listen to speakers involved with the epidemic, and work on a project to give back to their community.

South Webster High School teachers Judy Ellsesser, left, and Cyndy Hykes, right, pose for a portrait in Judy's classroom. The pair designed a class for their junior students to learn about the opioid epidemic. The students read the book Dreamland by Sam Quinones, listen to speakers involved with the epidemic, and work on a project to give back to their community.

THE SCHOOL

When Cyndy Hykes read Dreamland by Sam Quinones, she knew she had found the book that her students would relate to.

Cyndy paired up with fellow South Webster High School teacher Judy Ellsesser and together they designed a course where students would not only read the book, but would also listen to speakers who are involved in the opioid epidemic on different levels, and work on a project that would give back to the community.

Cyndy and Judy have seen a shift occurring in their students. “The students have responded extremely well,” Judy said. They’ve been actively engaged, and they’re gaining confidence when it comes to the impact they can have on their community. “They're also starting to learn… I've got a voice, I've got power, I can do something,” Cyndy said.

“Some of the kids around here are personally affected by the addiction problem, and that's what got us so involved with it actually,” Judy said. Students like Brittany and Macee* have been personally affected by the opioid crisis, but they rarely talked about it in the past. Talking openly in class about addiction has been freeing for some students. “I’m like oh, I’m not alone,” Brittany said.

Other students who haven’t been personally affected are starting to show more understanding and compassion for the situation. “They're starting to think on a different level about people's behavior, what people's stories are, how people's environment affects how they react to things,” Cyndy said. “It's a level of empathy that… we didn't see before, and I think that if you can build empathy in any student then that really is gonna make a huge difference.”

*Students' last names have been omitted to protect their privacy