Essex High School Students Featured On MTV
02/16/12 12:44PM By Samantha Fields, Ric Cengeri  Download MP3
(Host) If you tune into MTV sometime this week, just might catch a glimpse of a group of kids from Essex High School.
Late last fall, the high schoolers won a contest to have MTV sponsor, and film, their ideal "Unwasted Weekend."
MTV held the contest with "Above the Influence" - a national campaign to get teenagers to have fun without alcohol or drugs. More than 400 teenagers from around the country submitted entries about their dream weekend. MTV chose four, including the group from Essex.
And so in December, an MTV film crew descended on Essex High School and the Champlain Valley Expo Center to shoot the all-night party, and talk to the students behind it.
VPR's Samantha Fields was there.
(Fields) Even before you open the doors to the Expo Center, you can hear the music pulsing through the walls.
Inside, it's dark and packed with high school students. They're tumbling their way through a giant bouncy-house-style obstacle course, and hurling their bodies up against an inflatable Velcro wall.
There's a hypnotist. Later in the night there will be dance classes and a dodge ball tournament. And an MTV film crew is capturing it all.
(Kari Lavalette) "It's so much fun so far. It's cool to have cameras following you around and like the sound guy. It's a lot of fun."
(Fields) Kari Lavalette is a junior at the high school. She's also part of the Essex "Above the Influence" group that came up with the idea for this party, and won the visit from MTV.
The group is all about teenagers promoting healthy choices and finding ways to have fun without drinking or doing drugs.
(EJ McLeavey-Fisher) "What I find most interesting about these kids is they're sort of leaders, they're popular, they're normal kids, and they are willing to take this stance, which could be considered unpopular."
(Fields) E.J. McLeavey-Fisher is the MTV writer and director behind the "Unwasted Weekend" project.
Of the more than 400 contest entries MTV received, he says Essex was the only group that wanted to do something that was also a benefit.
Sixteen-year-old Kari Lavalette said that from the beginning, the group knew they wanted whatever they did to be more than just a good time...
(Kari Lavalette) "We wanted to give back in some sort of way. And as much as it would be fun for it to just be a fun weekend for us, we wanted it to help other people too."
(Fields) All of the students who entered the MTV contest are all athletes. So they decided to raise money for the Unified Sports teams at the high school.
Unified Sports is part of Special Olympics. The teams put able-bodied kids together with students with developmental disabilities.
Seventeen-year-old Erika Quackenbush is another of the students on the team that won the visit from MTV:
(Quackenbush) "We just felt that we wanted to allow these athletes that don't get as much recognition to help them become more part of the community I guess and get their name out there..."
(Fields) Junior Joey Picard says that the whole project was about giving back to the community... and having fun in the process.
(Picard) "We thought doing it for our high school and the community because that's the kind of age group we want to spread the message to. And then we just thought of, what is the biggest most awesome block party that we could throw. And this is what we came up with, which I think is pretty awesome."
(Fields) E.J. McLeavey-Fisher, the MTV director, says that's what made Essex stand out.
(McLeavey-Fisher) "They were really aiming high, you know? They were going for something big to do this event. And it was impressive to hear about and it was something we wanted to see happen."
(Fields) For Erika Quackenbush and her friends, it was surreal to have a national camera crew descend on their little town to follow them around.
(Quackenbush) "Well, I mean, it's Vermont. It's Essex, Vermont. It's pretty exciting."
That excitement continues this week, when their story airs on MTV.
For VPR News, I'm Samantha Fields.