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Tar Wars Program

Making an Impact in Barrow

In the spring of 2021, all fourth and fifth-grade students (about 2,100) in the Barrow County School System participated in Tar Wars, a tobacco-free education program developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians. This was the third consecutive year that Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow partnered with the Barrow County School System to teach students about the short-term health effects of tobacco use, the cost associated with using them, and the advertising techniques used by the tobacco industry to market to youth.

“The future health of Barrow County communities’ rests in the lifestyle choices of the youth today. With tobacco, nicotine, and alcohol being at the root cause of many illnesses, it is important for our youth to be aware of the impact of decisions made today on the rest of their lives,” says Sunita Singh, PR Manager for Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow. “With the goal of reducing tobacco use among young people and beginning a discussion about changing culture, we are honored to partner with Barrow County School System in our fight against smoking and abuse among our children.”

NGMC Barrow Tar Wars Poster Contest Winners 2021

Traditionally implemented during Red Ribbon Week in October, the Tar Wars program pivoted this past year to accommodate mitigation measures and limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the school district’s no visitor policy, Tar Wars lessons transitioned from in-person guest speakers to Google Classroom so students in person and learning at home could participate equally. Nurse Angie Caton and NGHS produced instructional videos and created accompanying online activities. Following each video, BCSS teachers then facilitated rich classroom discussions with reinforcing activities. For example, the first video discussed the ingredients in a cigarette and how tobacco affects your body. Students then tried breathing through a drinking straw while jogging in place to simulate how a smoker may feel with reduced lung capacity.

As part of the program, students also designed a poster to discourage tobacco use. Each class selected the top 3 posters, which went on to participate in a district-level competition with over 200 poster entries. NGMC Barrow narrowed the submissions to 36, which were then voted through Facebook to select the top 3 poster entries for the Barrow County School System. The system winners were recognized at the Board of Education Meeting on August 3, and they moved on to the state-level competition. Check out the poster designs below!

Tar Wars Poster Contest Winners with Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow Staff

An additional congratulations goes to Noah Self, who earned Third Place in the State Poster Contest!

  • 1st Place: Jailyn Delira-Castaneda, “BE A FIGHTER PUT DOWN THE LIGHTER."  5th grade, Yargo Elementary
  • 2nd Place: Noah Self, “HIT TOBACCO OUT OF THE PARK.” 4th grade, Yargo Elementary
  • 3rd Place: Azul Velazquez, “SAY NO TO SMOKING!” 5th grade, Bethlehem Elementary
Tar Wars 2021 First Place

FIRST PLACE by Jailyn Delira-Castaneda Yargo Elementary

Tar Wars 2021 Second Place

SECOND PLACE by Noah Self Yargo Elementary and Third Place State Winner

Tar Wars 2021 Third Place

THIRD PLACE by Azul Velazquez Bethlehem Elementary

As part of the program, students are given a pre-test to establish their baseline knowledge. After they complete the Tar Wars program, they also complete a post-test. Data revealed significant knowledge gains in all areas by students.

  • 87% of students reported learning something new from Tar Wars
  • 93% of students responded people who smoke are not healthy and fit (in the post-test)
  • 33% more students said advertisers are not telling the truth about tobacco use (from the pretest to the post-test)
  • 28% more students said that vapes are not safer than regular cigarettes (from the pre-test to the post-test)

On July 1, 2021, Georgia HB 287, which was signed by Gov. Kemp on April 27 as Act Number 30, went into effect that requires tobacco and vapor product instruction each year for all students in grades kindergarten through 12. The Barrow County School System will continue to utilize the effective Tar Wars program with 4th and 5th grade students as one aspect of meeting the bill’s requirement.

As Barrow County School System and NGMC Barrow continue to partner together, hopefully, the number of smokers will begin to decline due to the impact of the Tar Wars program in the coming years. Singh shared “We are thankful to Barrow County school teachers, nurses and counselors to deliver TAR WARS presentations to the 4th and 5th grade students. With the education they are presenting, Barrow County youth will certainly have the knowledge and skills to be healthy and successful for many years to come.”

For the work completed to launch the program three years ago and transform it during COVID-19, Ellen Petree from the Barrow County School System was nominated for the “Cure Lung Cancer Hero Award.” This special recognition is awarded to three individuals who have made a significant impact in the lives of those affected by lung cancer. Angie Caton, Assistant Nurse Manager for the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, nominated Mrs. Petree this summer, sharing that “With Ellen’s leadership and guidance, over 2,000 4th and 5th grade students successfully participated in TAR WARS for each of the last three years, including the pandemic.”

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