Sixteen winning entries in the annual anti-tobacco Public Service Announcement Awards program for students in Alameda County were recognized in an online presentation this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In years past, students in the Alameda County Tobacco Use Prevention Education program gathered together for the award presentations, listening to speeches, watching the PSA videos, and applauding as their fellow students came forward to be recognized.

This year, the program’s Youth Advisory Board recorded video segments for the awards ceremony, which were then streamed online April 27 with youth leaders transitioning from one video to another, following a live introduction by program director Scott Gerbert.

“I wanted to make sure the video felt as live and in-person for the viewer as I could in the editing process,” said advisory board member Will Taggart, who managed the technical aspects of the online events with fellow YAB member Victor Thai. 

The annual event was just one of hundreds that faced cancellation after Alameda County’s shelter-in-place order went into effect one week after the deadline for submitting student-produced PSAs warning about the dangers of tobacco use and vaping, forcing the awards program to go virtual.

“In our current situation, any opportunity to lift up positive youth voice and engage youth is critical, and we felt it was in the best interest of all to hold this event virtually,” said Kristy Ross, youth development specialist at the county Office of Education.

During her prerecorded address, Alameda County School Superintendent L. Karen Monroe said, “It’s important to keep this topic in front of adults and youth alike, even in this really challenging time, maybe especially in this really challenging time. We need to continue to understand the importance of telling young people about the dangers of vaping and staying healthy in many ways.”

Youth Advisory Board members are high school students from across Alameda County who speak out against the dangers of tobacco and vaping as peer educators. “This is truly youth in action,” Monroe noted in her address. “We know that when young people talk to other young people, they listen. They listen to you. They listen to their peers.”

Every year the Youth Advisory Board selects PSAs for recognition in three categories – audio, posters and video. This year 82 individuals and teams submitted entries, with 16 chosen for recognition. With the theme “Don’t Believe the Fiction, Vaping's an Addiction,” this year’s PSAs included personal stories of vaping, cautionary tales, and facts about the dangers of tobacco.

Winning entries were:

Audio PSA (High School) – First Place: Trista Pradhan, Kalie Tong, Alex Wu, Alameda Science and Technology Institute. Second: Nina Moothedath, Amador Valley High School. Third: 3rd (tie): Fernando Herrera, San Lorenzo High School, and Kate Crawford and Olivia Harrison, Alameda Science and Technology Institute.

Video PSA (High School) – First Place: Zoe Johnson, Grace Blanchard, and Katie Langendorff, Granada High School. Second: Jasmine Chen and Rina Munakata, Alameda Science and Technology Institute. Third: Ethan Haines, Vineyard High School.

Poster (High School) – First Place: Andrew Le, Elvis Enguidanos, Christian Olateru, and Bella Hernandez, Arroyo High School. Second: Ricky Titswork, Granada High School. Third: Clara Merkel, Granada High School.

Video PSA (Middle School) – First Place: Vincent James, Hopkins Junior High. Second: Ava Distasi, Erin Abramson Newman, Noe Linvill, and Mei Saphir, Willard Middle School. Third: Amelia Paradise, Sara Willey, Elizabeth Kagel, and Riley Kersh, Junction Avenue K-8.

Poster (Middle School) – First Place: Natalie Huang, Maryam Naseer, Kirthi Gopinath, and Sahana Seth, Hopkins Junior High. Second: Bryan Heffel, Hopkins Junior High. Third: Selena Chambers, Walters Middle School.

The TUPE program also includes classroom-based substance abuse prevention programs, intervention and cessation services, and youth development activities that engage students as peer educators.