10/22/2020 – 07:31am
A group of longtime friends who were college classmates and members of The University
of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) famed Pride of Mississippi Marching Band have formed
a national education advocacy organization to help combat the vaping epidemic on middle
school, high school and community college campuses.
The mission of their new project, Schools Against Vaping, is to provide vaping research
and support for America’s public, parochial, and private schools, and their educational
and organizational partners. According to the CDC, more than five million middle and
high school students are currently using some form of e-cigarettes, more than the
teen use of traditional cigarettes. Many students are now addicted, and bringing their
vaping devices onto school campuses across the country. A study by Stanford University
has also found that those who vape are five times more likely to contract the COVID-19
The Kappa Kappa Psi Honorary Band Fraternity brothers have not reassembled since Brett
Favre was quarterback at USM. Golden Eagles, all, the one-time education majors now
stay in touch via social media as they weather the pandemic and embrace a new challenge
in their fight against vaping.
Mississippi’s Michael Marks (tenor sax) is currently serving as national executive
director of Schools Against Vaping. Marks is a retired longtime Pine Belt area speech
and theater educator who earned the America’s Outstanding Teacher of the Performing
Arts designation, and is a former national officer of the three million-member National
Education Association (NEA).
He is undaunted by the challenge facing the group and the country’s schools.
“Vaping is not my first rodeo,” said Marks, who served as official teacher partner
for Mississippi’s Tobacco Advisory Council. Under the leadership of former Mississippi
Attorney General Mike Moore, who led the national tobacco lawsuit for this country,
Marks said he heeded the lesson in perseverance. “I will always stand up for America’s
Robert Magee (solo flute), current executive director of The Engineering Society of
Detroit and a former Vice-President of AT&T, notes the fact that vaping was originally
purported to be a safer alternative to cigarettes. “The cure can sometimes be worse
than the cause,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to promote the health
and welfare of the high school students in my program.”
Ken Leach (oboe), who directs an after-school arts enrichment program for St. Anna’s
Episcopal in New Orleans, agrees. “Compromised immune and respiratory systems are
the hallmarks of vaping, and threaten to leave my students highly susceptible to CoVid-19,”
he said. “America’s students deserve the support of their educational family.”
Jimmy Harrington (drum major), educational consultant with California’s Sonoma County
Department of Education in the San Francisco Bay area, has taught K-12 in Alaska,
California and Mississippi as a general music educator, and has seen student vaping
up close and personal. “It is time for schools to push back against the false marketing
that targets teens and onerous business practices of this industry,” Harrington said.
Robert Keating (trumpet), performing arts chair at Florida’s Gulliver Preparatory
School, recognizes that the costs incurred by schools due to vaping is staggering.
“Camera surveillance near bathrooms, removing doors from bathroom stalls, banning
flash drives, hiring more staff to patrol restrooms … the stories I hear from colleagues
across the country are horrific, let alone the intangible institutional energy, teacher
frustration and time spent on student/teacher confrontation,” Keating said.
James Hannah (trombone) acknowledges now is the time for the education family to step
up to the plate to help students. “One in four high school students admits to using
a vaping product daily. Teaching is hard enough without taking on a generation of
students addicted to nicotine,” said Hannah, a retired director of bands for Plano
West High School in Texas.
Robert Sevier (clarinet), a retired Hattiesburg middle school music teacher and currently
a Hattiesburg Clinic psychologist working with children and adolescents, humorously
mused on the group’s longtime mantra. “Musicians are always ‘instrumental.’ The lessons
we learned 40 years ago as members of The Pride serve us well today as adults: work
hard, demand good results, and support each other to the top.”
Learn more about Schools Against Vaping at www.SchoolsAgainstVaping.org.