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USM Friends Reunite to Fight Vaping Epidemic

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 07:31am

Collage of photos featuring Michael Marks, Robert Magee, Ken Leach, Jimmy Harrington, Robert Keating, James Hannah, Robert Sevier A group of longtime friends who were college classmates and members of The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) famed Pride of Mississippi Marching Band have formed a national education advocacy organization to help combat the vaping epidemic on middle school, high school and community college campuses.

The mission of their new project, Schools Against Vaping, is to provide vaping research and support for America’s public, parochial, and private schools, and their educational and organizational partners. According to the CDC, more than five million middle and high school students are currently using some form of e-cigarettes, more than the teen use of traditional cigarettes. Many students are now addicted, and bringing their vaping devices onto school campuses across the country. A study by Stanford University has also found that those who vape are five times more likely to contract the COVID-19 virus.

The Kappa Kappa Psi Honorary Band Fraternity brothers have not reassembled since Brett Favre was quarterback at USM. Golden Eagles, all, the one-time education majors now stay in touch via social media as they weather the pandemic and embrace a new challenge in their fight against vaping.

Micheal MarksMississippi’s Michael Marks (tenor sax) is currently serving as national executive director of Schools Against Vaping. Marks is a retired longtime Pine Belt area speech and theater educator who earned the America’s Outstanding Teacher of the Performing Arts designation, and is a former national officer of the three million-member National Education Association (NEA).

He is undaunted by the challenge facing the group and the country’s schools.

“Vaping is not my first rodeo,” said Marks, who served as official teacher partner for Mississippi’s Tobacco Advisory Council. Under the leadership of former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who led the national tobacco lawsuit for this country, Marks said he heeded the lesson in perseverance. “I will always stand up for America’s kids.”


Robert MageeRobert Magee (solo flute), current executive director of The Engineering Society of Detroit and a former Vice-President of AT&T, notes the fact that vaping was originally purported to be a safer alternative to cigarettes. “The cure can sometimes be worse than the cause,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to promote the health and welfare of the high school students in my program.”



Ken LeachKen Leach (oboe), who directs an after-school arts enrichment program for St. Anna’s Episcopal in New Orleans, agrees. “Compromised immune and respiratory systems are the hallmarks of vaping, and threaten to leave my students highly susceptible to CoVid-19,” he said. “America’s students deserve the support of their educational family.”



Jimmy HarringtonJimmy Harrington (drum major), educational consultant with California’s Sonoma County Department of Education in the San Francisco Bay area, has taught K-12 in Alaska, California and Mississippi as a general music educator, and has seen student vaping up close and personal. “It is time for schools to push back against the false marketing that targets teens and onerous business practices of this industry,” Harrington said.



Robert KeatingRobert Keating (trumpet), performing arts chair at Florida’s Gulliver Preparatory School, recognizes that the costs incurred by schools due to vaping is staggering. “Camera surveillance near bathrooms, removing doors from bathroom stalls, banning flash drives, hiring more staff to patrol restrooms … the stories I hear from colleagues across the country are horrific, let alone the intangible institutional energy, teacher frustration and time spent on student/teacher confrontation,” Keating said.



James HannahJames Hannah (trombone) acknowledges now is the time for the education family to step up to the plate to help students. “One in four high school students admits to using a vaping product daily. Teaching is hard enough without taking on a generation of students addicted to nicotine,” said Hannah, a retired director of bands for Plano West High School in Texas.



Robert SevierRobert Sevier (clarinet), a retired Hattiesburg middle school music teacher and currently a Hattiesburg Clinic psychologist working with children and adolescents, humorously mused on the group’s longtime mantra. “Musicians are always ‘instrumental.’ The lessons we learned 40 years ago as members of The Pride serve us well today as adults: work hard, demand good results, and support each other to the top.”


Learn more about Schools Against Vaping at