About a dozen Hudson High School seniors are participating in a program to promote healthy choices and lead other students away from drugs, as well as changing what they call an unfair perspective of the school held in Columbia County.
Living The Example, a program of Mentor Foundation USA, has run in three other Columbia County Schools — Ichabod Crane, Germantown and Taconic Hills — for the last two years, but this is the program’s first year at Hudson High.
After the students completed a five-week curriculum late last year, they were ordained as “Youth Ambassadors,” and are now creating two projects, each with a $1000 budget, to aid their community, as well as engaging in other altruistic works and promoting positivity through their own lives.
Mykal Walters, one of the youth ambassadors at the school, said the biggest problem she wants to address through the program is the “stereotype” many have of the school.
“Many people see it as a school of violence, or (having) a lot of drugs, and honestly, we’re not like that at all,” she said. “We’re actually a tight-knit community, and we actually have a lot of good things going on…I think people misjudge what Hudson is.”
Walters mentions diversity as one of the school’s major assets — the school draws heavily from Hudson’s black, South Asian and Latino communities — but said it was this very diversity that made people from outside the district make negative assumptions about the school.
Maya Alverez, another youth ambassador at the school, agreed Hudson High gets a bad rap.
“There’s a bad reputation on Hudson that we just want to completely get rid of, because Hudson to us — it’s the most accepting school…throughout Columbia County,” she said. “There’s so much diversity inside of our school and we’re so accepting of each other that it’s just wonderful…I think that’s something that should be broadcast, and should be acknowledged.”
The reputation was spread in part because of violence in the city over the summer, Alverez said.
Six people were wounded and one killed in a rash of shootings last summer that left Hudson on edge, but Alverez said the violence does not stray into the school.
Alverez learned about Living The Example though friends who had gone through the program at other districts and posted about it on Instagram, she said.
One of the ways youth ambassadors are encouraged to promote positivity is through the hashtag #livingtheexample. Ambassadors share things online from their lives and their environments that serve as examples of positive living.
When Alverez raised more than $500 for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, she posted about it on social media with the hashtag in hopes it would inspire others.
“Living The Example means to me doing good when other people aren’t watching, and encouraging other people to do good and to support each other,” Alverez explained.
The centerpiece of the program is the two $1000-projects, one for the winter and one for the spring.
Hudson’s Youth Ambassadors are still in the planning stages of the projects, but Alverez and Walters talked about supporting Hudson’s homeless population through a donation program, as well as partnering with Rashad Barksdale during his Run this Town charity basketball game in Hudson.
Barksdale, a former Hudson High student, played for the Eagles in the NFL, and hosts the games in Hudson every year.
Though there is a broad focus in Living The Example, the youth ambassadors specifically promote a drug-free lifestyle.
This is especially relevant to Walters, who said her older sister has struggled with drugs and is currently in rehab.
“She really drew me in to want to be that change,” Walters said.
Later this year, the program will hold a “Shatter the Myths” assembly, where medical professionals and former addicts will talk about the harmful effects of opioids and other drugs, said Kamal Johnson, Hudson’s new First Ward alderman and the coordinator of Living the Example for the four participating schools in the county.
Each Youth Ambassador who completes the program is eligible for a $40,000 scholarship.
Ambassadors must also maintain a high GPA and write an essay to get the scholarship, which is doled out in $10,000 increments annually, Johnson said.