AURORA –  Students at Aurora High School have a unique reason to stay drug-free — they could drive away in a brand new SUV.

Ganley Chevrolet will be donating a two-year lease of a 2019 Chevy Equinox to one AHS student who is a standing member of the Drug Free Club. While the club is newly formed, high school principal Dr. Paul Milcetich said more than 100 students attended its first meeting last week. The announcement about the district’s partnership with Ganley Chevrolet was made just before the football game Friday night. 

Staying drug/substance free is only part of the requirement. While details and parameters are still being ironed out, Milcetich said club members will be tasked with spreading the message of a drug free life style and ‘Pride Cards’ will play a role.  All students in the Drug Free Club will earn a Pride Card simply by being in the club, but they can earn Pride Cards through any actions where they are essentially "caught being good" by a teacher or staff member. All staff members have Pride Cards and distribute them to all students when they see kind or good actions by students in the hallway, classrooms, lunchroom, etc. A Pride Card will be drawn junior/senior night next spring to determine the winner of the vehicle lease. 

"We already had the Pride Card system in place and do weekly drawings with smaller prizes at stake, like gift cards to local stores and restaurants," he said. "So, we took our existing Pride Card program and merged it with the new Drug Free Club and the concept of rewarding students for making good decisions and maintaining a healthy and positive culture."

He added any student who wants to be part of the club must sign up by the end of September. Math teacher Stephanie Duncan will be the advisor for the club.

James Reinart, general manager at Ganley Chevrolet, said he spoke with Aurora Schools Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli and Milcetich about the Drug Free Program and decided that raffling off a vehicle would be a great incentive for students and a way to give back to the community. If the student who wins the two-year lease is under age 18, a parent will have to sign the lease, which includes all maintenance. Insuring the vehicle and purchasing gas is the responsibility of the lessee.

"It just reinforces what we are trying to do in the community with the kids with the drug-free club," Reinart said. "It gives them leverage, so if they are at a party they can say no ... it helps with the peer pressure." 

Reinart said some kids who use drugs are going to use drugs regardless, then there are kids who might be peer pressured into it and having the ability to say they have a chance to win a car and they don’t want to lose that chance might prevent some of those kids from using. Reinart also sponsored the new scoreboard at the football field and worked with the district to implement a district reading program.

During the Aug. 27 School Board meeting, Milcetich said the club was formed as a way for students to opt-in to being drug tested. Last year, the district considered implementing a new random drug testing policy for students who were in extra-curricular activities or had a high school parking pass. Administrators received opposition from parents who were either against a drug-testing policy or felt changes were needed, such as making the program voluntary. While many were in favor of the drug testing policy, the School Board did not push forward with a policy until this year which makes the club optional.

"The optics are different but the mission is the same – to promote a drug-free lifestyle," Milcetich said. 

The district will be using Great Lakes Testing Co. to conduct the random drug tests. 

School Board member Pam Mehallis said she would like to see a more inclusive effort to reach all students. 

"I am all for keeping kids safe and healthy with the drug-free club, but it’s highly unlikely anyone doing drugs is signing up for the drug-free club and they are definitely not signing up to be randomly tested," Mehallis said. "We know there are kids doing drugs at the high school and I just want to make sure we continue to look for avenues to reach them."

"We are one tragedy away from this community insisting we make (drug testing) a policy," said Mehallis, explaining she recently attended a funeral for an Aurora graduate, in his 20s, who died of a heroin overdose. 

Milcetich said he is hoping the drug free club will gain momentum and community members and parents will be more open to a different drug testing policy. 

Briana Barker can be reached at 330-541-9432, or bbarker@recordpub.com.