DENVER — Sometimes the most complicated problems have the simplest solutions.
"We kinda talked about what it would be like to have a group that was specific for prevention," Gaby Mohr, a school health professional at Skinner Middle School in Denver, said.
Mohr and Skinner Middle School Dean Josh Duran started a group called "Somos 1" three years ago. That means "We are one" in Spanish. They started it to help students like Emilio Carrasco.
"It's a Latino leadership group," Carrasco, an eigth grader, said. "It's a group for Latino kids or Latino heritage. They come together and be with each other."
The idea is to deal with complicated problems like drugs, smoking, and bullying with a simple solution: Bring kids together to talk and support one another.
"We look at what puts students at risk to get involved in more risky behaviors like substance use and it looks different with Latino families," Mohr said.
She says risk factors for Latino kids include historical oppression, racism and loss of language.
"And, then when we look at protective factors -- community, family, sense of self, identity, knowledge of history. Josh and I looked at that and were like this is huge," Mohr said. "That's where the whole group was founded on really connecting to self, family, community and knowing our history."
For example, with Cinco de Mayo celebrations coming up, the group wants to put on an event to educate the community on the history and why this day is celebrated versus just an excuse for adults to drink margaritas,
"The kids were pretty outraged to know how much money alcohol companies make off of Cinco de Mayo," Mohr said.
Carrasco said he likes the real aspects of the holiday which commemorates the Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire in 1862.
"We're learning a lot about our culture and like our background and not only what has happened, but how what has happened is affecting us today," Carrasco said.
Having pride in their heritage gives her confidence according to seventh grader Ariela Garcia. She says she now feels strong enough to say no to drugs or to stand up to bullies.
"I know who I am and I'm not just going to let some dumb words hurt my feelings," Ariela said.
Somos 1 also partnered with a campaign called Speak Now this year. The plan is for Somos 1 to expand and help parents learn to talk to their kids about substance abuse.
"For the Latino community, no, that's a big taboo," Mohr said. "I think they're sometimes that thought of like, oh, if I talk to them about this, then they're going to do it."
Carrasco says group members help each other stay clean.
"To us, we're people that we could go to. If we need something, we could go to someone in this group," Carrasco said. "If we need, if we're struggling with something, then we go to someone in this group."
But, things are changing. Mohr just announced to the students that she is leaving for Texas in July to pursue her doctoral degree in social work.
"I'm happy for her. I'm happy for her," Carrasco said.
Mohr feels Somos 1 is strong enough to carry on without her and continue to solve complicated problems with a simple solution.
"I mean it sounds corny, but we kind of built a family," Mohr said. "Josh and I were like if we could just get 10 kids-a-year to bond and be friends with each other at middle school and then when they have high school know each other. Then, we did our job."
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