|Drugs in Brookings' schools: 'We're beyond saying there is a problem'|
|May 18, 2012 10:30 pm|
Brookings-Harbor High School students and Brookings-Harbor School District staff have different ideas and perspectives on how to address drug use in district schools.
District staff admit there is a problem with drug use in school – BHHS Principal Larry Martindale estimates after speaking with students that 35 to 50 percent of the school population use or have experimented with drugs such as marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs and steroids this year.
“We’re beyond saying there is a problem,” Superintendent Brian Hodge said. “Let’s look at this because we want to get it under control. Take care of it.”
Part of the challenge is that drug use is increasing and affecting the entire student body, Hodge said.
“What’s different is, in the past it was more isolated,” he said. “It was possibly a certain group of kids. Now it doesn’t matter what your GPA is, whether you’re a star athlete ... it’s across the board. And that’s disturbing because where are the role models?”
BHHS Athletic Director and Dean of Students Jon Young agrees.
“Traditionally, in lots of schools, you’ve had one segment of the population that are the druggies,” Young said. “We’ve felt like we’ve noticed over the past year or two it’s infiltrated our athletes, Leadership students and the mainstream population. It’s right in our face is what it feels like.”
To address drug use, BHHS staff have implemented programs such as the Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS) program for boys, and the Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives (ATHENA) for girls, which are activity-based programs. Both programs are open to all students, not just athletes.
BHHS also has held assemblies and organized lessons in advisory classes for students. School officials have collaborated closely with the Brookings Police Department and brought in Brookings Police Department Patrolmen Dustin Watson to educate staff on what it looks like when students are under the influence of drugs. Students in the Leadership class partnered with the Brookings Police Department to make public service announcements about drugs, and positive behavior interventions are in place, too.
The counseling department is at the front line, and BHHS refers out to community organizations as well, Young said.
Finally, students who participate in the athletic program are given random drug tests because being a part of the athletic department is a privilege, Young said.
“The goal isn’t to catch kids,” he said. “The goal is to deter the kids from being involved in it in the first place.”
At Azalea Middle School, 1 or 2 percent of sixth-and seventh-graders have experimented with drugs and alcohol, according to the results of a recent survey, Principal Sheryl Lipski said. She said the results from eighth grade students haven’t been released.
“We don’t have any knowledge of drugs on campus,” Lipski said. “I would love to say we don’t have kids using drugs, but I can’t say that for sure, but I would hope. We don’t believe we have kids using at school.”
She said seventh and eighth graders learn about drug awareness and making healthy choices in health classes.
This week, Wendy Lang of the Curry County Juvenile Department will meet with the sixth-grade science classes and talked about drug awareness as well, AMS Dean of Students Diane Kinney said.
Finally, the Brookings-Harbor School Board is in the process of revising its drug policy, and each school will update its student handbook once a new policy is adopted.
There is speculation among some BHHS students to whom the Curry Coastal Pilot talked to whether the new policies and programs will make a difference.
One BHHS senior said of the ATLAS/ATHENA program “If they want it to work, they probably don’t have a problem with (drugs) in the first place.”
She had a similar view of an assembly from Jessica Walters, spokesperson for the Southern Oregon Meth Project who came and spoke to students earlier this semester.
“I just don’t think that I’ve heard of anyone doing crystal meth,” she said. “It’s more like marijuana and prescription pills.”
Another BHHS senior doesn’t like the way the issue has been presented.
“They’re approaching students wrong,” she said. “They’re more accusing us. They aren’t asking if we’re doing (drugs). They just shouldn’t start accusing us right away. They should give a survey, see what the results show, then do something.
“I think people are way smarter than the adults are giving them credit for. I don’t think they’re doing it at school.”
A junior shared a similar view.
School officials are “looking at it from the outside in, not the inside out like we are,” he said. “I think everybody should be educated on (drugs) and make their own decisions, and not have decisions forced down their throat.”
A sophomore, who admits experimenting with drugs, said the new programs won’t work.
The ATLAS/ATHENA program “will get people who have never tried drugs or who are against drugs, but it won’t get people who smoke,” she said.
She said the decision to change is a personal choice.
However, some BHHS students like the ATLAS/ATHENA program.
“I think it’s a great idea,” another sophomore said.
And from one freshman, “The ATLAS program is a big step in testing and rewarding those who are actually staying clean,” he said. “I think it’s a great program. I’m a member.”
Although he likes the program, not all BHHS athletes do.
He said 45 percent of students in the zero period weightlifting class quit when the ATLAS/ATHENA program was announced.
“A lot of kids decided they’re not willing to risk getting caught,” he said.
District staff support the ATLAS/ATHENA program and other steps the school has taken because they admit something needs to be done.
“This program ... is gonna help us build role models as they stand up and say no to drugs in our school,” Martindale said. “It’s a message to the school and the community that I’m drug free and proud of it.”
Young hopes the program will have a positive effect on students, too.
“We’re just hoping that it provides some incentives to the kids to make the right choice while also providing some accountability for them to make good choices,” Young said. “I think with the incentive piece there are some kids that might want to be a part of the cool things going on. We’re hoping that will be a deterrent.”
Hodge thinks the ATLAS/ATHENA program will make a difference as well.
“I think it will work, and it is already working,” Hodge said of the ATLAS/ATHENA program.”
He said a number of students have signed up for the program or come to coaches and administration and expressed interest.
“It is a positive influence for students,” Hodge said. “They dedicate themselves to a sport, an activity, they know that there will be drug testing. There will be accountability, and I think the students will find comfort in that. There are very clear expectations.
“I think it gives an option. It will help the culture of the school that the leaders, the successful students in the school, are a part of this. There will be examples for underclassmen, and for students at Azalea. Basically, it’s alright not to do drugs. It’s alright not to drink. You can still have fun. You can still be cool. You don’t necessarily have to do drugs or drink alcohol.”
Hodge said that the district is making a conscious effort to address drug use because it is something the district has to keep on its radar.
“We’re looking at the policies, and bringing it to the forefront is something that we’ve consciously done this year,” he said. “We have drug problems in Brookings-Harbor. We want to put a spotlight on it in order to fix it.”
“I just think we need to do something. We need to try something,” Young said.
Students share drug experiences
A Brookings-Harbor High School senior has been around alcohol and drugs her entire life – her father used to be a meth addict, her brother started to use meth in fifth grade and many of her friends began smoking marijuana in elementary school – but she has never tried drugs herself.
“I haven’t ever done drugs, but I’ve been high because of all the drugs I’ve been around,” she said. “I grew up with parents always smoking in the garage.”
When she was in fifth grade, her father, who is an alcoholic, molested her. He was so drunk, he didn’t remember, she said.
She waited two weeks, and then told her mother. Her mom told her to keep it a secret to help keep her dad safe.
She did, until her junior year of high school.
Then she finally told someone. She was put into foster care for a few months with an aunt and uncle.
But they smoke and are alcoholics, too.
Her brother has since gone to rehab, and finally stopped when he realized his own sister couldn’t look him in the eye, he told her.
“So drugs have really affected me in a lot of ways,” she said.
Although she has constantly been surrounded by drugs, and has been offered drugs numerous times, she has always resisted for two reasons: She made a promise to a friend who also has never done drugs to stay clean, and after seeing the affects drugs have had on family members first hand she has never been interested.
“I didn’t have any will to hurt myself or my friends or my family,” she said.
In her view, drugs are a big problem in the Brookings-Harbor area. She attributes drug use among students to the adults they are influenced by, and to the culture of drugs in this community.
“People get into or see people do drugs at a young age, so they feel like it’s okay,” she said. “They get it from their parents or the parents of friends. Parents supply. There is a big circle. Drug addicts all get (drugs) from each other.”
At BHHS, many athletes and students with good grades chew tobacco, take steroids and smoke marijuana, she said.
“There’s so much drug activity going on at school,” she said.
When students carry around soda or tea, it is really spit from chew, she said. She said there is spit on the floor in many classrooms, and that in one classroom the walls are stained from tobacco. Students sneak alcohol around in soda bottles that they store in lockers as well.
“Teachers are oblivious, and they’re supposed to be looking out for this stuff,” she said.
She thinks many students believe they need marijuana to be happy.
She said many students believe it is natural, and believe that the smoke from the marijuana won’t go into their lungs.
“It really is as bad as people are saying,” she said. “Yeah, the drug problem is severe at our school.”
She said students use marijuana “all the time,” and drink alcohol on the weekend. One place they use drugs is KidTown, another is “stoner hill,” the hill at Stout Park.
In her view, drug testing will work for some students, but not all.
“I don’t know what would help,” she said.
Three Brookings-Harbor High School students (two sophomores and a junior) have experimented with marijuana, mushrooms, alcohol, cigarettes, prescription pills and Ecstasy.
Each first tried marijuana in elementary school. The youngest was only 6. As they got older, they began to experiment with other drugs.
Today, they use drugs on a daily basis.
“I haven’t stopped smoking marijuana since I was 6 years old,” a sophomore said. “I quit over sections of time, but I’ve done it consistently since I was little.”
The students began using drugs at an early age because they grew up around them.
One student had marijuana smoke blown into his mouth by a family member when he was a sick 5-year-old.
“The next day I was not sick,” he said. “I thought it was medicine.”
Another started because his brother grows marijuana.
“It’s not hard to get a drug you can grow,” he said.
And a third stole marijuana from her mom because parents are role models, and she wanted to be like her mom, she said.
All three have been caught to some extent – one was caught at school when he was 12 for distribution, another was kicked off the wrestling team and the third was caught in seventh or eighth grade for selling at school, was arrested in Alaska, and suspended this year and last. But that doesn’t deter them.
Each has his or her own reason for still using drugs.
“It takes the edge off, makes things more simple,” one said.
“I don’t do it in spite of authority, I do it to relax,” another said.
“I like it. It’s fun. I get bored in small towns,” the third said. “It’s a bonding experience with family, a way to meet friends.”
And none of the students believe using drugs is wrong.
“We’re not running meth labs, using heroin,” a junior said. “We’re just teenagers smoking and drinking.
“It’s there. I think you’re going deal with it at some point in life, so why not try and be prepared.”
“I never found the need to stop. I’m not against it,” a sophomore said.
Two have used drugs at school, a third has not.
Students go straight to the dealer and use the barter system to afford drugs. Being a girl is a free pass to a party too, they said.
When asked about health effects, the students responded that people don’t know everything about it, that a person can’t overdose on marijuana and that “it’s not the drug that kills you, it’s the choices you make when on drugs,”
Although all three students have tried a variety of drugs, they won’t try everything. Before using a drug, the students get background information on it, observe those they have seen use the drug and ask themselves if they “want to become that person.”
The only thing that would make them stop is being drug tested for work. Or shame.
“It’s not a problem,” a sophomore said. “The problem is, people abuse it.”