Miss Pa. tells students: ‘Don’t COPP out!’

BROOKVILLE — Miss Pennsylvania 2010, Courtney Thomas, graced her Hickory Grove Elementary alma mater with a visit last Friday, leaving students with the message, “Don’t COPP out.”

The acronym stands for the 22-year-old Sigel native’s personal platform on the consequences of peer pressure (COPP).

While an eighth-grader at Brookville Junior-Senior High School, Thomas said she experienced the serious repercussions of falling to peer pressure first hand. The 2007 graduate decided to leave a high school football game, against her better judgment, to join friends for a car ride.

The car, she said, ended up colliding into a tree at 85 mph. Both of her legs and arms were broken in the crash. As a result, Thomas’ extracurricular activities — including basketball, violin and piano — paid the toll.

“All of these things came to a screeching halt because I made that split-second decision,” Thomas told students while displaying the photos of the wreck.

Now a Drexel University senior majoring in biological sciences, the Miss America contestant discussed the importance of the decision-making process with the elementary school’s third- through sixth- grade students. Using the acronym “Ideal,” Thomas said the steps in decision making are identifying the problem, describing possible solutions, evaluating, acting on plan and learning for the future.

“Some decisions hold more weight,” she said. “Not only do you have to respect yourself, but you have to respect other people.”

Thomas also addressed the relevant and timely issue of bullying, a problem that is faced, according to Hickory Grove Principal Edward Dombroski, by “every school in the country.”

Describing how she was often “made fun of” for what she packed in her lunch — a sandwich made with vinegar — Thomas stressed the prominent occurrence of bullying in everyday situations, from in-school teasing to cyber-bullying.

“Bullying goes on 24 hours a day,” she said. “Sometimes when you say no to people, sometimes when you stand up for yourself, it’s not just going to end there. It is so important to report and tell someone if you see bullying going on. Students have died from bullying going unreported.”

The school, in conjunction with Pine Creek and North Side elementary schools, set a goal of $400 — Miss America’s minimum — for booking Thomas, which goes directly to their partner, the Children’s Miracle Network, but ultimately raised $701.54.

The check, raised by homeroom can donations, two $5 jeans days and the bake sale of two sixth-grade girls, was presented to Thomas by members of the school’s student council.

Before pointing out her very own Hickory Grove handprint, painted on the gymnasium wall in 2001, Thomas shared a talent she has been training since she was four. On the electric fiddle, she played, with a techno twist, “The Orange Blossom Special,” a number she showcased not only in her sixth grade Hickory Grove talent show but also at the Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Pageant.