WASHINGTON - When Billy Shreve watched student films at a Maryland Film Festival last year, he was surprised by the talent and creativity of the young moviemakers. The festival inspired him to harness that creativity to fight drug use through a competitive film project in Frederick County, where he is a member of the council. Called Classmates4Life, the contest was open to students at all levels - elementary, middle and high schools.

“We kept it simple," Shreve explained. "‘How drugs wreck your world’ [was the topic] for middle school and high school students. And ‘Why are drugs bad?’ for elementary school students." Ninety-five students submitted films.

"Over 50,000 people have viewed the videos on our YouTube channel, Classmates4Life," Shreve said proudly. "The parents love it because they could sit down at home, watch a few videos with their kids and talk about what the video content was.”

We need lights

“Lights Out,” the first place winner at the high school level, was made by Alex Ismael, a rising 10th grader at Linganore High School. In the film, he used lightbulbs as a metaphor. “Our friends and family around us, each represents a different light and how we need to keep these lights on, and the brighter the better,” he says. “Doing drugs really is going to stop you from being there for those people.”

His principal, Dave Kehne, says the school staff were excited that one of their students won first prize. “We were also excited to hear about the program in general because we know that students can use their peer pressure for positive things.” He added that efforts to include kids in any discussion about solutions to drug problem are greatly needed and appreciated.

“Sometimes young people attempting to escape their lives they turn to chemicals and non-natural items to try to make them feel better. But they realize very quickly that feeling better is temporary. Unfortunately, for some of our students, addiction sets in rather quickly and we need to do all what we can do not to have students even wade into the waters of drug use.”

Simple, profound message

Alexandra Kish’s video was the top winner at the middle school level. “I wanted to make it straightforward; don’t do drugs,” she says. “I cut out the drugs and I colored them. I kind of did the well-known drugs like cigarettes. I put needles with like a skull no it and I explained with that how people are spending a huge amount of money on these drugs.”

Alexandra says drugs rob people’s wellbeing, too. “I know someone who was very severely affected by drugs. I mean this person doesn’t look well mentally, physically. She’s just out of it.  And if someone does drugs, that affects other people. This person kind of affected me although I don’t see this person much. But my position could be anyone else’s position and I just don’t want that to happen.”

Drugs can make your life explode

The first place winner in the elementary school category comes from Centerville Elementary School; a film titled, Drugs Can Make Your Life Explode by 4th grader Liam Timpane.

Liam says he made the film to have a positive impact on his peers—and for another important reason. “My dad is also a moviemaker and I wanted him to feel good about me,” he says. “I decided to make my own video. My Dad was really a big help, by like showing me the stuff he knows. He showed me how to do something while I was editing it so I can do it myself.”

Not only did he learn how to make films - Liam was also pleased with the feedback he received. “I’ve been congratulated. My whole class clapped for me. In our health lesson, we were talking about how bad drugs are for you. Actually, one kid in my class mentioned for that part of the health lesson, he said, ’It’s kind of what Liam’s video is talking about.'”

Starting next year, and because of its huge success, the Classmates4Life anti-drug student film contest will be a statewide program, giving more students an opportunity to creatively fight drug abuse.