Students launch project to say ‘heathly’ tan really isn’t

LANGLEY — Slowly, and it seems like it’s taking forever, summer is gradually making itself felt on Whidbey Island and it’s time to break out the swimwear and get that great-looking tan.

Not so fast. Catchin’ those rays can lead to serious health problems. And that’s the focus of a new project underway by committed South Whidbey High School seniors Katie Lint, Sara Roberts, Hailey Way and Kimberly Boenish.

As part of their World Contemporary Problems class at school, the four are planning to increase awareness of the dangers of too much sun, specifically skin cancer.

They plan to set up a booth from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26 at Double Bluff Park to hand out brochures and provide on-the-spot testing that demonstrates how destructive the sun’s ultraviolet rays can be on human skin.

The group will hit the beach Sunday, May 27 if the weather is bad on Saturday.

The idea got its start after a dozen community experts came to the students’ class to talk about homelessness, racial diversity, ageism, environmental degradation and global health.

“Susie Richards, who helped guide and direct this project from its inception, pulled together many different people with a broad, diverse range of experience and knowledge,” their teacher Jorn Aronson said.

And they made an impression on the students as they formed into separate study groups.

“Mr. Aronson talked about how global health is a very big deal and we thought this would be a good project for us,” Boenish said.

Other class projects include eliminating styrofoam trays used in the school’s cafeteria.

“They use about 6,000 a month,” Lint said. “Converting to washable plastic would help the environment and save money.”

Another group will hold a bake sale and grow tomatoes for the Good Cheer Food Bank, while others will clean up a local beach, visit the county’s juvenile detention center and investigate domestic abuse.

Aronson believes that, in order to make progress, all citizens must take educated action.

“I want my students to know that social change happens at a grassroots level, and that they are capable of making a significant difference by engaging in activities that move toward social change,” he said. “It’s equally important to be educated about those issues so that sound decisions can be made.”

Civic duties and responsibilities are a major component of Aronson’s social

studies classes.

“In investigating issues that are relevant to our lives, I spend a lot of time attempting to connect topics to students in a way that they can relate to,” he said.

“On an academic level it’s important to read about events, but civic learning can be enhanced by integregrating new knowledge with engagment in a service related project.”

The teens who are planning the informational booth at Double Bluff beach have been meeting with Coupeville dermatologist Dr. Russ Johnson. He provided information as well as sunscreen samples they plan to distribute to beachgoers at Double Bluff.

“Distributing sunscreen will finalize our project,” Way said. “On Monday we’re going to see Dr. Johnson’s partner and get a special camera that instantly record’s UV damage.”

The camera provides a record of how much UV sun impairment results when a person is unprotected, Way added. “The pictures will tell the story.”

One of the most common effects of UV exposure is “erythema,” commonly called sunburn. It occurs when skin cells are damaged by the absorption of energy from UV rays. To compensate for this injury, the skin sends extra blood to the damaged skin in an attempt to repair it — thus accounting for the redness that is associated with sunburn.

The amount of time it takes for a sunburn to occur is dependent mostly on the relative amounts of UV rays that are hitting the skin, and on a person’s skin type.

Another effect of ultraviolet rays on the skin is photoaging. The students hope to demonstrate at their booth Saturday that many of the symptoms commonly associated with mere aging — such as wrinkles and loosening of the skin — may instead be related to UV exposure.

The teens have been learning about the ravages that the sun can inflict.

“Damage starts with day one but it can be seen as early as 15,” Lint said.

Roberts found that people with fair skin are the most susceptible. “I have olive skin so my chances of getting skin cancer are less. I still have to be careful, though.”

And Boenish plans to always put on sun block along with her make-up. “I don’t want to look old and wrinkly,” she said.

Way summed up the bottom line: “A tan can make someone look beautiful, but it’s also dangerous. Now it’s time to spread the word.”

Students will conclude their projects in a culminating event at the Island Coffee House in Langley with a presentation of their findings to middle school students and other members of the community on June 6 and 7.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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