Skyline seniors push for completely smoke-free schools

Sarah, left, and Hannah Chichester talk about the signs they've posted around Skyline High School. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County School facilities have started the year off totally smoke free with a set of revised tobacco policies that the School Board adopted this summer.

Sarah and Hannah Chichester are seniors at Skyline High School this year and advocates with Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth’s Y Street program. In Y Street, students take part in different campaigns for public health education and action. The Chichester sisters have participated in a few different Y Street initiatives and spoke before the Warren County School Board in December about their 24/7 campaign.

The 24/7 campaign, launched in fall 2014, promotes tobacco-free school campuses and reports that 23 school divisions in the state have enacted tobacco-free policies, now including Warren County. Hannah Chichester said those policies include banning smoking on all school property and at all school events.

“Every single school wants to have a nice, safe, healthy learning environment, whether it’s inside the school or outside the school,” she said.

Both sisters said they don’t think smoking is much of a problem at Warren schools, but wanted to support a comprehensive policy that creates a totally smoke-free environment.

“I’m kind of proud to say that in Warren County schools … I’ve never seen a teacher use tobacco on school grounds,” Sarah Chichester said.

The School Board approved revisions to district-wide policies in the schools’ manual at its regular July meeting. The revised policies include bans on alternative nicotine products, smoking at outdoor school facilities and designated smoking areas on school property. Assistant Superintendent for Administration Melody Sheppard stated in an email that school administrators worked with Y Street on the revisions.

Hannah Chichester said parents and visitors can respect the policies by smoking off school property before attending an event. Sarah Chichester said they embraced the 24/7 campaign after taking a closer look at health risks and seeing student survey responses last year.

“In the last couple of years, I’ve really developed getting sick from smelling cigarette smoke,” she said. “I’m sure I’m not the only student who struggles with that.”

The sisters put up signage at Skyline High School in a few different key locations last year. Similar signs will be on display at all Warren County schools within a few weeks, Sheppard stated. The 24/7 campaign toolkit also includes materials that the schools can use to help students and faculty quit smoking.

Next, the Chichesters said they’d like to expand their advocacy by visiting schools in other counties now that Warren County schools are smoke-free. Sarah Chichester said she might look to work in public health or social services one day, and Hannah Chichester said she’s interested in work with nonprofits or in housing.

“There’s always a problem that needs to be fixed,” she said. “I’m never satisfied.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com