BMX freestyle athletes perform at a Westwood school assembly Thursday, May 9. They are Michael Mogollon, left, and Erick Soto. The athletes delivered an anti-tobacco message. Photo by Susan Cort Johnson

BMX pros secure a captive audience, shares anti-tobacco message

BMX extreme sports athletes got the attention of Westwood school students with tricks such as backflips, 360s and tail whips in order to deliver an anti-tobacco message. The purpose of the program is to help students realize the negative effects of tobacco use.

Erick Soto, owner of BMX Pros Trick Team, told students in Kindergarten through 12th-grade that he became a BMX pro because he stayed away from drugs and tobacco and focused on his riding skills instead. He delivered his message after performing tricks for the students. He is an X-Game finalist. Also performing was Michael Mogollon, a young man from Colombia who is a prospect for the BMX freestyle Colombian Olympic team. BMX Pros Trick Team is based in San Diego, California.

The company Website describes the core message as: “We focus on encouraging students to find something they love to do and concentrate on the personal fulfillment they can receive from that instead of choosing to engage in negative behaviors such as tobacco use.”

The assembly, held Thursday, May 9 in the back parking lot of the campus of Fletcher Walker Elementary and Westwood Jr/ Sr High School, launched a new tobacco prevention education program by the Lassen County Sheriff’s Department for three school districts in outlying areas. They are Westwood Unified School District, Big Valley School District and Fort Sage Unified School District. Assemblies were held May 10 at Bieber Elementary and Junior/ Senior High School and Fort Sage Elementary and Herlong Junior/Senior High School.

To fund the anti-tobacco use program the sheriff’s department applied for and received money from a Prop 56 Tobacco Enforcement Grant in the amount of $972,000 over a three year period.

The funds provide prevention education in classrooms and School Resource Officers.

According to Lisa Bernard, Community Services Officer for the Lassen County Sheriff’s Department, funds for school assemblies to launch the prevention and enforcement activities were requested in the grant proposal.

“I researched different assembly presentations available and chose the BMX Stunt Team because of their strong anti-tobacco message and dynamic presentation. I think kids are more likely to respond in a positive way to the material presented if it is presented in a memorable way,” wrote Bernard in an email to the Westwood PinePress.

In addition to Bernard, sheriff Dean Growdon also attended the assembly and deputy Michael Mai who is the school resource officer.

The assembly was just the starting point for education about the harmful effects of tobacco.

The sheriff’s office chose Botvin LifeSkills Training curriculum for classroom education. The curriculum is approved by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is evidence-based and backed by peer reviewed research. Staff presenting the material must be trained and certified in the curriculum. Presenters are trained Youth Services Officers and behavioral health counselors. Pre and post-test results during the education provide data on changes in attitudes toward tobacco use and tobacco use rates.

According to Bernard, the sheriff’s office tries to be proactive and prevent problem behaviors before they begin. However such programs are only possible with grant funding.