Pacific Cascade students make tough decisions

January 11, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Counselor Lori Kasemeier asks students about decision-making and throws a ball toward a student volunteering an answer at Pacific Cascade Middle School. By Laura Geggel

Students face decisions every day, from the flippant, “Should I straighten my hair today?” to the more serious, “Should I help my friend cheat on a test?”

This year, seventh-graders at Pacific Cascade Middle School are getting a crash course in decision-making and a slew of other life skills, including how to say no to drugs, set goals and create a confident self image during their trimesterlong health class.

Students dissected the components of decision-making during a lesson Dec. 14. Counselor Lori Kasemeier asked them to consider what could influence a decision, and they came up with a list, including parents, friends, television, movies and advertisements.

“Sometimes, what other people do influences us because we want to be like them or not like them,” Marwa Mahmoud said.

When Kasemeier asked students to think of easy decisions, they raised their hands in a wave of answers.

“If you’re sick, whether or not you feel well enough to go to school,” Erin Ball said, while her classmates talked about decisions of when to do homework or when to go to sleep.

While easy decisions might not require much thought, students should take time to reflect on harder ones, Kasemeier said. She talked about the three Cs: clarify the question, consider the alternatives and consequences, and choose the best option.

“We have choices all of the time and it’s important how we think about the three Cs,” she said. “Sometimes, if things don’t turn out right, we can reflect on our three Cs and think how things could have turned out better.”

She gave students a set of more challenging questions, and asked them to work through the process in small groups.

One group tackled a complex question: Should they go to a basketball game on a school night, even when they had homework due the next day? If they went to the game and didn’t finish the assignment, should they copy it from a friend?

The three Cs quickly came in handy. The students could go to the game and choose to copy or not copy — facing the consequences of failing an assignment or getting caught cheating. They could also get away with cheating, but have a guilty conscience.

Or, the students could skip the game and do their work.

Having steadfast principles helped, too.

“My sports coaches always say it’s school before sports, so I would stay home and do my homework,” Ryan Egland said.

The students discussed other dilemmas: Should they stay out past curfew? Should they let a friend cut in line? Should they egg somebody’s house?

“We suggested an alternate activity is the best choice, because you still get to have fun without vandalizing a house and you don’t get in trouble,” Ethan Chau said.

Mahmoud’s group decided they would call their parents to pick them up if a friend pulled out a bottle of wine at a sleepover.

Kasemeier asked how many students would be able to follow suit.

Charles “Chip” Hoehl said it could be hard, because “if you decide to call a parent, your friends might not want to hang out with you again, but if you stay you might be implicated, even if you didn’t drink the wine.”

Kasemeier said she empathized with students when they had to make hard decisions, and again urged them to use the three Cs.

Noah Stulberg said he recently faced a tough decision when he had to decide how to handle his mother’s birthday a year after her death.

“I ended up staying home for part of the day,” so he could think about her, and later “I went to my friend’s house.”

Kasemeier and Counselor Sonja Petersen said students enjoyed having them as guest speakers in health class. The two applied for a $2,420 grant from the Issaquah Community Network so they could teach LifeSkills Training, by Gilbert Botvin, Ph.D. Beaver Lake Middle School also uses the curriculum with the support of Friends of Youth.

Healthy Youth Survey data shows drug usage increases from middle school to high school, and counselors want to train students how to make healthy decisions now, before they are in difficult situations.

Petersen acknowledged that students will likely not remember the three Cs long after the assignment is over, but said it was valuable nonetheless.

“I think it’s important for kids to think together about the things that influence them and the things that are a part of teenage life, so they can realize they’re not alone,” she said.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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