PITTSFIELD -- She remembers being completely overwhelmed.

The first month of high school was so difficult for Pittsfield High School senior Rachele Rosiello that she asked her mother if she could go back to middle school.

"I was totally freaked out," said fellow PHS senior Dimitri Pixley, recalling his own initial ninth-grade experience. "I didn't know what I was doing."

Rosiello and Pixley are among the 28 members of the Berkshire District Attorney's Youth Advisory Board and they don't want the youngsters entering high school next year to have to experience what they did without advice.

The Youth Advisory Board will host its third STRIVE Youth Conference on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in which board members and guest speakers discuss teen social issues with eighth graders from across Berkshire County. STRIVE is an acronym for Students Teaching Respect, Integrity, Values and Equality. About 160 eighth-graders are scheduled to attend.

The 35 minute group meetings between board members and eighth-graders are titled, "Navigating Your Path To High School." This year's agenda also includes presentations on dealing with stress management, substance abuse, bullying and a sexual orientation session titled "LGBT Allyship." The LGBT and group meeting sessions are new to the agenda this year.

"Our goal this year is to create a conversation with the kids," Rosiello said.

The Youth Advisory Board is made up of juniors and seniors from 14 Berkshire County high schools who have been chosen by school administrators. The board sets the agenda and chooses the topics for the conference each year.

Carol Mulcahy and Cheryl Penna, who do community outreach work for the District Attorney's office, provide the speakers. The theme for this year's conference is "Leaders Sailing in the Right Direction."

The board members also choose the age group that they want to address.

"Although they do other education programs for other age groups, they feel they can be most impactful with eighth graders, because they remember being in eighth grade," said Mulcahy, the director of community outreach and education for the District Attorney's office. "It wasn't so long ago."

Eighth graders also tend to relate more to teen social issues when high school students, rather than adults, are doing the discussing.

"Kids relate to other kids," Mulcahy said.

The idea for holding group sessions with the eighth-graders this year came up because the board only briefly touched on entering high school at last year's conference.

"We didn't have time to talk about a lot of the stuff that kids face going into their freshman year," Rosiello said.

Splitting into groups will allow for more discussion, the board members said.

"There will be more freedom to veer off on topics a little bit," Pixley said. "There are chances to have a bigger conversation."

The Berkshire District Attor-
ney's Office created the Youth Advisory Board in 2008 to allow high school students to be part of youth-focused initiatives that strengthen the prevention message and develop deeper connections with the students being served.

"The idea behind it is we'd rather do prevention than intervention work," Mulcahy said.

"About 10 or 12 years ago people started looking at the DA's office to do more than just put the criminals in jail," Mulcahy said. "They looked for help on social issues that were causing crime and violence. That's sort of how community education and outreach has expanded and grown."

District Attorney David F. Capeless said discussing prevention issues with the youngsters now can head off problems that may develop in the future.

"Instead of just prosecuting people," Capeless said, "we can get to the whole group upstream, and stop them before they come down."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224

If you go ...

What: STRIVE Youth Conference

Where: Crowne Plaza Hotel

When: 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., Thursday

Purpose: Members of the District Attorney's Youth Advisory Board and guest speakers discuss teen social issues with Berkshire County
eighth-grade students.

Topics: Leadership, stress management, substance abuse, bullying, LBGT Allyship, navigating your path through high school, moving forward with confidence.

Information: District attorney's office, (413) 499-5951, ask for community outreach.