Discussing The Dangers

he educational trend of making students aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol has shifted toward a more internal operation.

Due in large part to funding cuts and the necessity of trimming expenditures, school districts are taking it upon themselves to foster drug and alcohol prevention through the implementation of their own individual programs.

In the case of area school districts, gone is the ability to continue the long-standing utilization of the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program – an international initiative in which local law enforcement officers would come to schools to discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse with elementary students – to administer substance prevention and awareness education. With the inability to sustain the D.A.R.E. program in local schools, the task of raising awareness has fallen to specific teachers and student organizations.

“We don’t typically have outside agencies come in to talk to the students anymore,” said Charles Leichner, superintendent of Forestville Central School. “It’s happened in the past where we’ve had an occasional event or speaker come in, but now we mostly tie that internally into our health curriculum. That happens for kids in eighth and 10th grade, and that’s a part of their curriculum.”

Thomas Schmidt, interim superintendent of Cassadaga Valley Central School, said this is the time of year when this particular type of education is most pertinent.

“We’re getting into prom and graduation (season), so there’s a lot that goes into talking about the dangers of drugs and alcohol,” Schmidt said.

As part of an annual tradition, Schmidt said the student-run organization Students Against Destructive Decisions will host its own program to encourage high school students to make responsible decisions in light of upcoming school functions. Additionally, he said the district is looking into having an outside speaker talk to students during the forthcoming SADD assembly.

Earlier this month, Silver Creek Central School District used a different method of getting students’ attention on the matter. On April 2, the district held a mandatory one-and-a-half-hour assembly showing parents the dangers of underage drinking and drug use. Parents were required to sign a document to verify that they were in attendance, and the children of parents who did not attend were not permitted to attend homecoming events or prom.

In Jamestown Public Schools, Chautauqua County’s largest school district, there currently exists a disjointed implementation of drug and alcohol awareness programs – a situation which Tim Mains, superintendent, is hoping to remedy.

“We have not had a programmatic response in the district, and different schools have been managing both parent information and education and student intervention differently,” Mains said. “I believe we have been responding (to this issue), but we’ve been doing that individually. So it’s my responsibility to see if I can help our system to coordinate and respond in a more consistent way from school to school.”

According to Mains, who has witnessed several firsthand accounts of drug and alcohol abuse among students during his time as a school counselor with another district, his intention is to develop a districtwide educational program focusing on the dangers surrounding the issue.

“One of the things I’ll be doing in the next several weeks is work with a task force of folks here to develop a more uniform approach, because there hasn’t been a formal relationship between the district and its schools recently,” he said. “We want to develop a bifurcated approach to offer preventative activities on a routine basis and also, when there’s a specific problem that pops up, make a referral so students and families can be interviewed and they can select whatever service makes the most sense for them.”

The decision to streamline drug and alcohol awareness programs at JPS comes one week after an incident in which marijuana was found on the Washington Middle School grounds on April 9. The school was locked down for approximately two hours while members of the Jamestown Police Department searched the building before departing shortly before dismissal.

“As the superintendent, I take this situation seriously, and I ask for your help in addressing the important issue of drugs in the schools,” Mains said in a statement to parents released shortly after the incident. “We must all be vigilant and willing to communicate whenever there is the potential for danger in our schools. If any parent, student or community member has knowledge of drugs in any Jamestown school, please contact the school principal and/or the superintendent’s office immediately. Our district has a zero tolerance policy for drugs in our schools, and will take swift and appropriate action against anyone violating that policy.”

Over the past week, Mains said he has come across student intervention and parent education programs that he will be making immediately available to the families involved in an incident.

Although outside organizations are no longer actively involved in awareness programs within the local school system, they are still utilized for their resources and in collaboration with school programs – such as mock DWI scenarios in which schools coordinate with local law enforcement, fire departments and Starflight to portray an accident scene in real time.

Also in contact with school districts are WCA Hospital and the Chautauqua Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Council, both of which have resources available for use in the classroom.

“They provide insight and research that we use to provide programming and instruction and education to students,” Leichner said.