What factors contribute to kids trying, and in some cases, abusing drugs and alcohol?
officials are striving to find answers that may help steer future generations of students away from using drugs. Officials hope to gain some clarity from 1,600 students, who last month completed a . Similar queries will be given to students today.
“Are there any indicators that can help us to preempt?” Kim Rubenstein, a parent liaison for the district’s initiative asked. “When you talk about prevention, it’s pretty tricky because it’s very difficult to (prevent) a young person from taking chances and having risky behavior … But the longer you can put off experimentation, the better.”
Although drug prevention is a challenge, Rubenstein and Hatboro-Horsham School District officials intend to continue the course following the inaugural year of “Be A Part of the Conversation” meetings, discussions and outreach programs centered around bringing parents into the fold and educating the community about the signs, symptoms and impacts of drug abuse among kids.
To that end, district math and statistics teachers are working to compile the high school survey results, Rubenstein said, adding that the goal is to finish by the end of the school year. The outcome of the surveys will lead future initiatives, officials said.
“It can’t really fix the people in high school now,” Hatboro-Horsham High School junior Aimee O’Gara said during this week's school board meeting. “It’s more to help the younger generations.”
John Nodecker, assistant superintendent for secondary education, said Be A Part of the Conversation came to fruition following the 2009 Pennsylvania Youth Surveys, which queries sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades to “learn about their behavior, attitudes and knowledge concerning alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence.”
According to results that Nodecker shared, 46 percent of seniors polled had “binged” on five or more drinks within an hour or two. Other drug use, according to the state survey, is at an “all-time high,” Nodecker said.
“It’s a scary scene out there,” Nodecker said during the board meeting. “Rather than run away from it, Hatboro-Horsham has had the guts, the courage to stand up to it.”
Expanding the conversation
In addition to offering periodic Be A Part of the Conversation programs, a spinoff, , are held every Thursday evening for parents in need of support.
A father of three children – including his oldest, who battled addiction problems - said he’s found a support network at the Parent Partnership meetings.
“I look forward to the meetings every week, being able to share my stories and share my frustration,” he said.
Some weeks, Rubenstein said she interacts with just one parent in attendance, while other weeks more turn out.
“The reason I want to be available to parents for support is that when parents are faced with something that scares them about their child’s behavior or the decisions they’re making, they need someone to talk to who will not judge them,” Rubenstein said. “They are not alone. They’re so many people out there struggling with this.”
The supports the efforts, and in April coordinated a prescription drug take back at the Horsham Road store, collecting 83 pounds of drugs, according to Rubenstein. The plan, she said, is to offer similar collection programs every six months.
Horsham Police Lt. Jon Clark, who attended the school board meeting, said he’s seen other attempts at drug and alcohol prevention, but nothing of the magnitude of Be A Part of the Conversation.
“Our entire police department is 100 percent behind this program,” Clark said. “I’m also here as a parent of a 9-year-old daughter who’s up at Simmons. I at least want to keep this going until she’s out of 12th grade.”
Next school year, Rubenstein, who has led the effort, said the somewhat exclusive Be A Part of the Conversation will become more inclusive of the entire high school, as well as middle school students and parents.
“We don’t want anybody to think we’re just targeting the high school, because that’s where all the problems are,” Rubenstein said, adding that often drug use patterns develop before high school.
O’Gara, who said she met in school monthly with a diverse group of students including addicts, those recovering from addiction and others who are drug and alcohol-free, said she’d like to expand the conversation to allow for more student participation.
“Hopefully the bigger that it gets the more people will participate,” O’Gara said.
For the future, Rubenstein envisions enhancements in the curriculum in health science classes, as well as discussions with other school districts regarding best practices. In addition, Rubenstein said the district plans to explore the possibility of offering a “self-contained learning environment” for students returning from the classroom after rehab.
On Aug. 7, in conjunction with National Night Out, a program is planned regarding teen drug use. Rubenstein said a variety of speakers are being considered, as well as “creative ways to engage students in the conversation.”
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Rubenstein said of what lies ahead.
Regardless of what comes of the district initiative, Rubenstein said its success hinges on one thing.
“We’re being very true to the word ‘conversation.’ We don’t want this to ever feel like a lecture,” Rubenstein said. “It is a dialogue.”