Winhall students receive memorable lesson


WINHALL— Thanks to the Mountain School's close relationship with the local police department through its School Resource Officer program, students got a special hands-on demonstration Wednesday to learn about the dangers of smoking.

In his mission to educate students in a memorable way, Winhall Police Sgt. Gregory Gould, also the Mountain School's SRO for the past 14 years, brought along respiratory therapist Sabrina Halse, who works for the Bennington Rescue Squad.

Not only did Gould and Halse plan an informative presentation, Gould also brought along two real pig lungs — one healthy, and one exposed to cigarette smoke — for the kids to observe and even touch.

"Do you know people who smoke?" Halse asked the classroom full of approximately 20 fifth and sixth graders.

Almost all of the students' hands shot into the air.

"Do they smell nice?" she asked.

"Nooooo," responded the class.

"Do you smoke?" she asked.

The students erupted into giggles before delivering a resounding "no."

"The point of today is so that you don't start," Halse said.

Halse outlined tips for students who wish to talk to family members about quitting smoking. They need positivity and gentle reminders, she said.

Before the demonstration, Halse outlined the anatomy and functions of human lungs.

The surface area of human lungs is enough to cover an entire tennis court if laid out flat, she said, much to the disbelief of the students.

Halse explained that humans not only have hair on their heads, they have hair in their noses to filter out particles. Much like the nose, lungs also have tiny hairs called 'cilia' that act as a filter.

"Put your hands in the air and wave them back and forth like this," Halse said, raising her arms and swaying them back and forth. The students followed suit.

"This is what cilia does all day long," Halse said.

However, when someone smokes cigarettes, the harmful chemicals and smoke paralyze the cilia. Halse held up a straight arm, demonstrating cilia that had been rendered useless by cigarette smoke and the harmful chemicals that come with it.

Some of these harmful chemicals include nicotine and even nail polish remover, she said.

This got the students' attention as they gasped in disbelief. But Halse wasn't done shocking the students.

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Another chemical found in cigarettes is jet fuel, she told the students as some made retching noises. Their disgust continued as Halse explained that rat poison, formaldehyde, and urea— yes, it's similar to what it sounds like — are also found in cigarettes.

"Put all those in a cup," Halse said. "Now, who wants to drink it?"

Naturally, none of the students thought this sounded like a good idea.

"So, if we don't want to drink it, why would you want to smoke it?" she asked.

This led to the main part of Halse's demonstration.

She brought out two plastic containers, one containing a healthy, bright pink pig lung. In stark contrast, the other one was a grotesque, dark gray and black mass.

The lungs were removed from pigs after being slaughtered for meat, she said. One lung was attached to a mechanical ventilator that pumped it full of smoky air, mimicking a person that smoked a pack a day for ten to 15 years. Not only was the color contrast between the two lungs like night and day, the unhealthy lung had even developed a tumor.

Halse attached the lungs to a breathing simulator contraption, hanging them by the trachea to display to the class. She pumped the healthy lung full of air, mimicking a deep breath in, and let it out.

This is how a lung is supposed to work, she told the class.

Next, she filled the smoker's lung with air. Instead of deflating after the "breath," the lung remained pocketed with air. This is because smoker's lungs trap air and can even pop, she said.

At the end of her demonstration, she invited each of the students, table by table, to put on gloves and get some hands-on experience by touching the lungs. All but a small handful of students excitedly jumped at the chance for the experience, even if some were a bit hesitant at first to touch.

Gould works at the Mountain School two days a month and during this time, teaches interesting age-appropriate programs like this one to students.

"They know me," he said.

He recently taught a class to older students discuss Vermont marijuana laws and why the legal age to possess small amounts of the plant is 21 and not younger due to the harmful effect it can have on a still-developing brain.

Also, Mountain School middle-schoolers are certified in first aid and CPR, he said.

He has also taught alcohol awareness classes and used fatal vision goggles, which allow students to experience how alcohol impairs functions.

Gould says it's important to teach students about drug awareness before they get to high school, which is where many of them are first exposed to drugs. And for the younger kids— the Mountain School teaches pre-k through eighth grade— he focuses on teaching character counts and starting a positive relationship that will likely continue for years.

"The main focus with the little kids is to establish rapport," Gould said. "[The Winhall Police] works really well with the school. It's a nice working relationship."

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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