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As a student at Evanston Township High School and now an employee at ETHS, John Phillips has made quite the name for himself: “Big John.”
A safety officer at the school, Mr. Phillips always planned on working with children. During his first days assisting his father in the youth department at his church, Faith Temple, he aspired to be a social worker and serve children with special needs. Today, his daily duties do not seem far off from those of a social worker. Each day he makes an impact at ETHS in a big way.
Mr. Phillips’ career at ETHS began in the summer of 1978, when he returned to Evanston after a year of college and visited the high scchool. A security guard there suggested that Big John apply to the Safety Department, and that is all it took.
That summer, Big John was the newest addition to the Safety Department and has been there ever since. When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Big John enthusiastically replied that each day is different and filled with new challenges.
He says he thoroughly enjoys the expansiveness of ETHS and the diversity of the students. In this, his 31st year working at ETHS, he is as passionate about his job as ever. He stresses that he does not take his job lightly, and for him, it is not just about getting the paycheck. Big John truly cares about ETHS students and is constantly working to be an effective influence as well as a good role-model. His dedication is one of his many amazing qualities.
Promoting Prevention at ETHS
Reflecting on his own experiences as a student at ETHS, Big John does not recall having any exposure to substance-use prevention when he was in school; however, he strongly supports it.
Because he always wants to be in control of himself, Big John does not use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs (ATOD). He believes that people give up self-control when they use substances, and individuals often do things they would not do when sober.
This leads him to be concerned about the “I just want to try it once” mentality that some students have. Big John believes that abstinence is the best way to prevent addiction, especially after seeing a family member struggle with addiction.
As a safety officer in the school, he supports the Peer Services’ “Strength in Numbers” campaign. The campaign messages displayed for students state the number of students who are not using ATOD at ETHS. Big John believes that emphasizing the number of students who do not use instead of the number of those who do use has been a better way of sharing ATOD information to students.
These messages show students who choose not to use ATOD that they can relate to others at ETHS and feel empowered by their decision to remain drug-free.Big John often uses the Strength in Numbers campaign messages as a platform for him to interact with students about ATOD prevention.
When asked what the staff at ETHS can do to improve substance-use prevention and safety at the school, Big John stated that it is imperative for staff members to build stronger relationships with their students. He believes that when students feel they can trust particular staff members they may be more inclined to seek them out if they need help, whether it is academic or non-academic related. By having a resource at school, a student who needs help with a problem has someone to confide in, rather than make unhealthy choices.
Big John Is for the ESAPC
As co-chair of the Program Committee of the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Council (ESAPC), Big John values student voices.
He says that, as adults, we often think we know what kids want, which may not always be the case. He stresses that students’ perspectives are important and should be heard. One of his primary goals for the Program Committee is to let parents and community members know that there are groups out there addressing substance-use issues.
In addition, he hopes that the ESAPC is a group where all community members are able to feel that their ideas and values are important.
Last, when asked about what the community of Evanston needs to do to help youth in regards to ATOD issues, he responded with the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” Big John believes the community should go back to that idea. Children’s homes, schools, and communities, need to be on the same page and share the responsibility of helping each child become successful in life.