Carly Jones
Eighth-grader Carly Jones tries on a bullet-proof vest from the FBI during a Youth Summit at Cunha Intermediate School on Thursday.

San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, Cabrillo Unified School District, the city of Half Moon Bay and other agencies came together for the third annual Youth Summit at Cunha Intermediate School on Thursday.

For the first time ever, the event, which is geared at teaching students to make smart decisions when it comes to temptations of peer pressure and criminal activity, took place during the school day and only involved eighth-graders. Cunha and Pescadero Middle School students attended the event.

“One of the biggest transitions is not just fifth to sixth grade, but eighth to ninth grade is a huge transition,” said Cabrillo Assistant Superintendent John Corry. “We really made an effort this year to focus on eighth-grade transitions and choices. It’s important we’re making sure kids get off on the right path in ninth grade.”

This year’s summit included presentations from Special Agent Marlo Graham of the FBI Cyber Crime Unit, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Shawn Chase and a keynote speech from Willie Stokes, a former gang member who has appeared at the event before.

Stokes spoke about how he has to keep an eye out for former gang affiliates whenever he leaves his house.

“One day they’re going to catch up to me. … My mission, before that day happens, is to prevent you guys from going down that path,” Stokes said.

Cunha eighth-grader Madison McKnight said what struck her the most from the day’s activities was when Stokes said he gave up his gang affiliation when his 14-year-old daughter got involved with the wrong crowd at school.

“I’d like to believe a lot of people make the right decisions, but that’s obviously not the case,” McKnight said. “Willie (Stokes) said he has to check his bushes because of what he did when he was young, and that’s horrible. Sometimes you don’t realize the effect of things until something happens.”

The summit closed with a question-and-answer session and brief speeches from Pilarcitos High School student members of the Coyote Society, a mentoring program between Pilarcitos and Cunha students established earlier this school year. One of those Pilarcitos students, junior Erick Alcantar, touched on what he thought were bad decisions made when he was a Cunha student and how his life has changed for the better.

“I feel like I can be an inspiration and motivate them in some way,” Alcantar said. “(I wanted to tell them) not to follow in my footsteps and try to do their best.”

The summit became open to the public after the presentations, with a barbecue, bicycle course, rock climbing wall and more. Eighth-graders donned T-shirts with the words, “Stay gold” on the back — an ode to the tagline “Stay gold, Ponyboy” from the novel “The Outsiders.” They mingled alongside high school students, teachers and others on the blacktop. Students had elected to use that quote for the Youth Summit T-shirts, another new addition to the event.

Overall, McKnight said the Youth Summit reinforced her determination to do well in high school.

“I’ve done very well in middle school, and I want to continue that,” she said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.”

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