ANSON — The goal: To get 70 percent of students in one grade at Carrabec High School to pledge not to use a tanning booth or intentionally tan in the sun before prom.
The result: School Administrative District 74 Nurse Linda-Jo Andrews didn’t stop at educating and getting 70 percent of one grade to sign the pledge. She got 70 percent of the entire high school.
At least 173 students out of 244 have agreed to not tan before the prom on May 12 and to wear sunscreen when in the sun. The pledges give the school a chance in a drawing organized by the Melanoma Foundation of New England to win $500 for the school’s prom.
The student pledges came in the middle of a month-long project at the school to teach them about the dangers of tanning. Students have watched educational videos, met with Andrews in small groups and had the opportunity to check themselves for sun damage with a facial scanner.
Before learning about the dangers of tanning, Caitlin Levesque, 18, of Embden, frequently tanned. Now, though, she said, “I want to protect myself before it’s too late.”
A senior, she will enter the University of Maine pre-medical program in the fall and is already getting a start on her health studies.
“There are a lot of high school girls that tan, not only at Carrabec, but in Madison, Skowhegan, Waterville, and I don’t think they have gotten the education that we have, and I don’t think they realize how bad it is, especially tanning in a tanning bed, which all of us do before prom,” she said.
The percentage of students who pledged not to tan puts the high school in a raffle with other New England schools. Two schools from each state will be randomly selected as part of the Tanning is Out, Your Skin is In contest, organized by the melanoma foundation, which provides educational programs that aim to reduce the incidence of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Andrews said her efforts have not been about the possibility of winning money, though.
“I do see some students that routinely tan, and that made this more compelling for me to do this education because I did get students that regularly tan give pledges in earnest. Many students were surprised at all of this information,” she said.
For example, students learned that using a tanning bed for 20 minutes is similar to spending one to three hours at the beach without any sun protection, she said. According to the melanoma foundation, tanning beds put out three to six times more radiation than the sun.
Students learned melanoma is the second most common cancer for young adults ages 15 to 29 and that people who use tanning beds once a month before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.
Getting five to 10 minutes of unprotected sun two to three times per week will help skin make vitamin D, according to the foundation. But getting more sun doesn’t increase people’s vitamin D level. Instead it increases their risk of cancer. People can also get vitamin D from orange juice, milk and fish.
Jocelyn Jackson, 18, of North Anson, said she learned that one person dies every 50 minutes from melanoma.
She will attend Full Sail University in Florida in the fall to study show production, “and this pledge has given me the education to keep my skin healthy and reduce my risk of cancer,” she said.
Andrews said she started by showing students a video during lunch. During the next lunch break, she asked students at each table what they had learned and to sign no-tanning pledges.
The following day, Denise Delorie, from the melanoma foundation, set up a facial scanner at the school to screen people for possible sun damage. Students and staff were voluntarily screened and encouraged to be vigilant about using sunscreen, Andrews said.
Andrews continued to solicit students for pledges and worked with science teacher Paul Thompson to follow-up with an additional 15-minute video about skin care and skin cancer prevention in all his classes. The video generated discussion and writing prompts, she said.
Now that she has received the pledges, Andrews said she will continue to check in on her students to make sure they aren’t tanning and are using sunscreen.
Erin Rhoda — 612-2368