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Drugs In Our Schools: The Silent War

khts_specialreport2While statistics across the nation show teen drug use stalling, neither rising nor falling significantly in the past year, a recent poll shows that schools in Santa Clarita fall below national averages.

In a study conducted by the William S. Hart District, seventh, ninth and eleventh graders were asked a series of questions ranging from drug and alcohol use to cigarette smoking.

The study showed that 21 percent of 11th-grade students surveyed reported using marijuana in the last 30 days.

A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that 32.8 percent of 12th-graders reported using marijuana.

While the age of the participants changed slightly from the national level to the Santa Clarita level, the results seem to be positive.

Stephanie Weiss is a Parent/Teen Group Facilitator for a parent and teen support program called ACTION, and she says that the Hart study may not be entirely accurate.

"Statistics are not really a good reflection of what is happening out there, and if you're in the trenches like the Action staff is and I am then you see that," she said.  "Are all kids out there using?  Absolutely not.  But are kids out there using with their peers and is there a proliferation of that?  Absolutely.  There is drug use that goes on out here and there is a large amount of drug use."

Weiss attributes her view to the statistics being based on student answers.  She says the bottom line is that kids can say whatever they want.

Weiss went on to say that the district conducted a similar survey a few years ago where they asked students about the use of MDMA or Ecstasy but failed to ask about the use of Methamphetamine (Meth).  Weiss says that Meth was a "huge issues out here, but the surveys didn't reflect that because the question wasn't on the survey, and if you don't ask it, you don't have to talk about it."

Another group that works with kids in our local schools is the SCV Youth Project, providing one-on-one peer mentoring as well as education.

"Drugs are definitely something that's happening," said Gina Peattie, director of programming for the SCV Youth Project.

While Peattie couldn't say specifically if drug use was up or down, she did report a common trend seen by the schools and outside organizations; drugs are in our schools.

The problem facing the District isn't a new one, but an ever-evolving problem, and that is why Richard Freifeld, director of Student Services with the Hart District, says they utilize the help offered by these community groups.

One step the District has taken to make parents more aware of their child's actions is the Voluntary Drug Program, where parents can sign their kids up to be drug tested by their school.

This test doesn't violate the Zero Tolerance policy of the district because the results are sent directly to the parents.

The Zero Tolerance policy is another way the Hart district is trying to combat drug and alcohol use, but it isn't always as hard line as it may sound.

Freifeld says the policy is based on "strong consequences," but they also look at other factors involved in individual cases.  The principal has the ultimate say in whether a student receives a suspension, expulsion or a transfer to a different school.

When a student is suspended they are referred the Drug Alcohol Prevention Education Committee (DAPREC), but this 5 day class is not mandatory.

Freifeld believes say that programs like ACTION are very effective in getting kids turned around because they work "intimately and extensively" with families."

"The most important thing that parents can do is to get involved," said Quashan.  "Parents tell me that they are afraid to overreact, and the only thing that they can do wrong is to not react."

Quashan recommends these tips when looking for or dealing with drug and alcohol use in children:

  • Go with your gut
  • Stay proactive
  • Test; buy an instant drug test at the pharmacy or ACTION will also come out and test any child at any time
  • Look for changes in behavior or friends, drop in grades, mood swings
  • Get involved, go to support groups
  • Act fast

Whether the stats on drug use increase or decrease, the main issue at hand is drug use in general, something the SCV Youth Project, ACTION and the Hart District will continue to wage war against.

Both ACTION and the SCV Youth Project have been helping children in the Santa Clarita Valley for 10 years.

ACTION holds weekly meetings at Canyon High School where parents and teens work with counselors to overcome the many problems that face families every day, including drugs and addiction.

For more information on SCV Youth Project click here, for information on ACTION click here, and for more information on the Hart District click here.