Bettendorf’s Emily Tinsman Joins Miss America Fight Against Teen Drug and Alcohol Use
Bettendorf’s Emily Tinsman, in her second year as Miss Iowa and first teaching at a Des Moines middle school, is part of a new Miss America Organization program where state title holders speak with teens in their area to discuss the dangers of substance use and addiction.
The new partnership with Advanced Recovery Systems’ Real Talk program has served the Florida community since 2016 (led by Miss Florida) and has impacted over 15,000 students since its founding. This partnership with Miss America Organization will expand the
educational ambassador program nationwide.
There are currently 20 title holders who will be participating in the program – including Tinsman, a 24-year-old Bettendorf High and Drake University graduate.
She will focus on speaking to groups of students in junior high, high school and college, about alcohol and marijuana – especially as pot use has become more accessible with legalization in Illinois that took effect (for adults over 18) in 2020.
“Marijuana is the most abused drug in Iowa,” Tinsman said recently. “In general, statistics-wise, alcohol is the most abused drug for teens.”
It’s all voluntary for the Miss America contestants to participate in the new education program, and she signed up because, “If I can do something positive in these last six months, I might as well give it a shot, even if it equates to me just giving one presentation,” Tinsman said. “At least I can do something impactful.”
The plan is to go into a school – virtually or in person – and give a 20-minute presentation, have a discussion with students, and give a little
quiz at the end.
“It’s a chance for kids to speak openly and really talk about the effect of drug and alcohol use, and how we can prevent that at an early age,” Tinsman said. “The idea is to get this going, so that the next group of titleholders – probably all of them – can be the face of the program.
We’re really like a pilot program for what’s to come.”
“It’s nice that Miss America does want to have a platform that everyone can serve, as well as their own personal platform,” she said. “I think it’s exciting.”
The Real Talk curriculum incorporates prevention techniques included in The Alcohol Literacy Challenge, developed by nationally-recognized researchers Michael Dunn, PhD and Thomas Hall, PhD. The Alcohol Literacy Challenge is the first classroom-based prevention program that specifically challenges students’ beliefs about the effects of drinking alcohol.
The Real Talk Ambassadors use this curriculum as a springboard to educate students on the risks associated with newly-emerging drug trends and equip them with skills on how to abstain from dangerous behaviors. The Real Talk presentation is offered free of charge and is appropriate students age 13 and up.
The partnership began with the Miss Florida organization in 2016, and the new Miss America about six months ago, Tinsman said. “Recently, they decided to bring on state titleholders as ambassadors for the Real Talk program.”
According to statistics from Iowa Public Health in 2018, 10 percent of Iowa youth reported that they had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days, and 5 percent reported that they had 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row.
In addition to serving as a Real Talk ambassador, Tinsman also dedicates her time to Americans For the Arts and has focused on the preservation of arts programs in schools through advocacy, education, and investment.
Real Talk ambassadors encourage students to ask questions about substance abuse, share their experiences without guilt or fear, and embrace healthy habits for their futures. Ambassadors also use their voice through social media campaigns, blogging and creating videos about addiction and mental health.
“To date, our Real Talk program has reached over 16,000 high school students, colleges, and community organizations through open, honest discussions about substance abuse and addiction,” said Allison Walsh, vice president for business development, Advanced Recovery Systems.
“While 2020 has been a year of uncertainty, we’re proud of the way we pivoted to accommodate an emerging public health crisis and rapidly-changing environment to expand our Real Talk program into a virtual offering,” she said. “We are thrilled to work with over 25 Real Talk Brand Ambassadors and now we are partnering with the Miss America Organization to reach even more communities nationwide. With teen mental health being a top priority, we are dedicated to being part of the solution.”
Advanced Recovery Systems is an integrated behavioral health care management company dedicated to the treatment of addiction, substance abuse and mental health conditions.
Miss Virginia, Camille Schrier, was crowned Miss America 2020 in December 2019 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. She’s a doctor of pharmacy student and prescription safety advocate.
“It’s no secret that I dedicated my role as Miss America to educating about prescription drug safety and substance use disorders, as well as fighting the opioid epidemic, but making lasting change takes more than just one person,” Schrier said in a release on the new program.
“I am thrilled by the national partnership between the Miss America Organization and Advanced Recovery Systems, which will empower titleholders across the country to educate on these issues nationwide, and maximize our impact in creating safer, drug-free communities,” she said.
Schrier’s platform for Miss America was “Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics.”
In May 2020, the Miss America Organization announced that the Miss America 2021 Competition, previously scheduled for December, was being delayed due to the impact of Covid-19, and the next Miss Iowa competition is planned for this June at Davenport’s Adler Theatre.
Experience with student alcohol issues
In her own high school experience, Tinsman knew to stay away from drugs and alcohol. But her graduating class was shocked by a student drunk-driving death in May 2015.
“I do remember in high school – three weeks before I graduated, a student was drinking and driving. They crashed into a tree,” Tinsman said of Bettendorf High senior Jonathan Russell, 18, who died May 14 at University Hospitals, Iowa City, from injuries sustained in a car crash in Pleasant Valley.
Russell was driving his 2003 Hyundai west in the 25000 block of Valley Drive at 12:43 a.m. Sunday, May 11, 2015, when he came upon a curve, said Scott County Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Thompson, the department’s accident investigator. A container of alcohol was found in the car.
The car began to slide sideways, then went into a shallow grassy ditch and struck a telephone pole and two trees. Russell was not wearing a
seat belt at the time.
“I think that put it into perspective, that this is literally life and death,” Tinsman said of driving while intoxicated. “If there’s something you can prevent someone dying, a couple days short of their graduation, it’s worth it.”
BHS didn’t host any guest speakers on drug and alcohol use to warn students while she was in school, she said. It’s vital to prevent students from rebelling when they’re unsupervised in college.
“Once you lose that parental supervision, you’re an adult, sometimes those decisions can lead to consequences,” Tinsman said.
“I think a lot of young adults find joy in the risk of alcohol, or the risk of doing something they’re not supposed to do,” she said. “People aren’t talking about this right now; there’s a lot going on in the world.”
“When you get to college, drugs and alcohol are everywhere,” she said. “It’s so easily accessible to college student. I think the biggest issue is binge drinking – not knowing what your limit is. There were so many times – for example, I had a roommate who would binge drink every single weekend and we always had to carry her home or hold her hair.”
“You’re supposed to be enjoying college, supposed to be learning,” Tinsman said. “The point is to not get to the point where you’re sick – taking away from your whole college experience by drinking or doing drugs.”
She saw many students come to class hungover. “It was kind of sad,” she said. “They’d come in with shades on, or completely out of it. Fortunately, I’ve never been in an experience where I have been in a car with someone who was drinking and driving.”
The stress and anxiety of this past year has led to a rise in alcohol consumption across the country, Tinsman said.
Marijuana use in Illinois may affect Iowa youth, if they have friends doing it, “then I’m gonna do it too,” she said. “I think people are smart enough to figure out where to get it. I don’t think it’s a matter of us being close to Illinois – I just think it’s a matter of knowing the right people.”
More than $1 billion in medical and recreational cannabis was sold in Illinois in 2020, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Over the past 20 years, each Miss America state titleholder also worked to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network at the local, state and national level, Tinsman noted. Through her competitions, she’s raised over $4,000 for the program.
“It offers you the opportunity, if you’re approaching a school, to offer both of your services,” Tinsman said of the Real Talk program and her arts education platform. That could improve the chances of her getting booked to speak.
She’s starting her research and planning a video presentation on drug and alcohol use. It’s a challenge for Tinsman since she is working in school at the same time students would be available to hear her talk. She can present for her building at least, and may pre-record a presentation for others.
Many other state titleholders are also volunteering for their second year in the program, Tinsman said. She admires how the Real Talk initiative has reached over 15,000 students so far and they hope to do double that by the end of 2021.
Wrestling with changes in classroom
In addition to volunteering to continue as Miss Iowa, Tinsman is a vocal music teacher at Harding Middle School in Des Moines, and a dance
teacher two nights a week for kindergarten students.
She sees about 25 kids for the dance classes, and at school she sees about 175 to 220 kids a day (6th, 7th and 8th-gtrade music). At the beginning of January, they switched back to mainly being in person, after being virtual for most of the school year after Labor Day.
“It’s been an interesting experience trying to navigate virtual learning, while in a first year, and transitioning back and forth being hybrid – having students back in class and online at the same time,” Tinsman said.
Earlier this month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced her plan to offer 100-percent in-person instruction, so families can choose either totally virtual, or totally in person. Students won’t be able to do a hybrid, Tinsman said, noting all her 6th and 8th grade classes would be totally in person, and 7th grade all online.
“Each quarter, except the first quarter, I’ve had two virtual sections per grade, so I just finished 100 percent virtual with 8th-graders,” she said. “It will be weird having 30-plus people in a room again.”
In person up to now, Tinsman has had a maximum of 16 students in the classroom at a time, to allow for social distancing.
“We probably will see behavior be more of a problem with a larger group of students,” she said. “I mean, that’s the way it would normally be.”
Tinsman will teach 120 kids a day in person with the new setup, she said, after it passes the state legislature. It could take effect in two to four weeks, she said.
“I would like to have the vaccine before we go back in person. Supposedly, it’s supposed to be next month,” Tinsman said of teachers. “Who knows?”
“Polk County is rolling out vaccines for teachers who are 65-plus starting Feb. 1, and then it should trickle down,” she said. Tinsman may be one of the last to get the vaccine since she’s one of the youngest teachers.
Iowa now plans to include all people 65 and older in the next wave of coronavirus vaccinations expected to begin Feb. 1, Gov. Reynolds has said.
Adding those older Iowans will open the vaccination to approximately 532,000 people. Iowa health officials had previously planned to limit availability to people 75 and older despite a federal recommendation to include people over 65.
That Feb. 1 distribution will also include a staggered rollout of vaccines to other priority groups, such as front-line essential workers, first responders and teachers.
Despite the expansion, Iowans should be patient as the state continues to administer its vaccine, Reynolds said. The state receives a limited
allocation of vaccine doses from the federal government each week but is administering them as quickly as it can, she said.
Tinsman also will be a virtual emcee for the University of Iowa Dance Marathon, which will be Feb. 26-27. They will provide livestreamed entertainment and participants can learn dances online.
Dance Marathon creates and sustains special projects to provide emotional and financial support and services for pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant patients and their families treated at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Last February, they raised $2.8 million and over the event’s 26-year history, they have raised a grand total of $30.4 million.
Tinsman was a Dance Marathon leader at Drake, and by senior year, she was one of the chairs of the event, coordinating all the dancers.