Dr. B speaks out on teens and substance abuse
Valdez High School Principal has the dope on school needs
Dear Editor of The Valdez STAR
I believe it is time that I, as principal of Valdez High School, share with the community, my beliefs regarding the illegal use of alcohol and drugs by high school students. I want to take this opportunity to refute statements that I do not see the problem among high school students. The Valdez Star newspaper contains the weekly Valdez Police report, and it clearly indicates to its readership (including me) that there is indeed a problem with alcohol and drug usage in the Valdez school-age population. To date, however, I have found and dealt with only three (3) students breaking the law with alcohol or drugs, on the campus of VHS during the school day or at a school sponsored activity.
High School students who are intimately more aware of each other’s social lives (than I am) talk a great deal about who is using, who is taking, who is drinking and frankly students too many times develop reputations that promulgate attitudes and perceptions among their peers that they are always under the influence of some substance, whether such is true or not. Such reputations once constructed become stigmatizing and are difficult to change. I walk the halls; I am in classrooms regularly; I talk with teachers, encouraging each to be vigilant about alcohol and drugs, yet I do not find (and I am not unwilling to find) students using or under the influence in school.
Perhaps a “drug dog” would be a useful intervention effort, but I do not support the use of drug dogs, as I have seen too many times the negative impact on students when the dog finds the odors but the police don’t find the substances. In a group of lockers it is difficult to determine who owns the odors. So before we go searching for the odors, we need to have determined beforehand what the Principal’s next course of action will be following the drug dog’s search. Perhaps one strategy might be for me to promptly refer students to the Office of Child Services; perhaps the Police report would cause them to investigate the homes of students whose lockers the dog “hit on”; and if those are the actions that the Principal is to take let’s all be prepared for the “fallout” that will follow because those odors waft between lockers filtering into the lockers of students who are not involved in drugs at all; plus, what then about those students’ reputations. On another note, however, a drug dog, if brought in, could search cars and as there is no exchange of air between parked cars (as there is in locker ventilation) then we would certainly locate any substance using students and proceed on that evidence regarding drugs on campus.
Additionally, there is much “talk” in the community among individuals who claim that I don’t want to see the problem, yet not one of these adults has come to my office to make me aware of any specific situation at school or at a school sponsored activity that they are knowledgeable of (from whatever source), so that I can investigate and substantiate the claims that students are using alcohol and drugs at school, during school sponsored activities, or that VHS students are under the influence of alcohol and drugs in class. If any adult knows of specific situations that they are willing to bring to my office, I will be happy to investigate, including involving the police, and apply Valdez City School Board Policy governing students’ illegal use of controlled substances at VHS. I must remind everyone however, that in my investigation of any such allegations I must reach the conclusion of reasonable suspicion by law before I move to question any student.
With that information brought forward let me share with everyone reading this letter, that I am totally opposed to the abuse of alcohol and drug usage of any type by minors or adults for that matter. I have seen firsthand the damaging effects of marijuana and its impact on students and adults. I would never support the legalization of marijuana. Additionally, I have seen firsthand the desperation and despair of adult alcoholics. Certainly, if controlled substances are readily available at school or high school students are using and/or dealing -then those students who are vulnerable can be led into experiences that create lifelong addictions.
I want to share with the community the recommendations I have made to the Superintendent of Schools some weeks ago and the fact that I have encouraged him to initiate these recommendations immediately and aggressively through the board.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS WERE AND REMAIN:
A. Stop the community negativity for VHS students and the deterioration of the school climate with decisive, aggressive board action to drive alcohol and illegal drugs off the high school campus.
B. Implement a random drug screening process for students involved in athletics and activities as this is enforceable in the courts. Additionally, this is the only question that students have asked me directly. On this basis alone, I believe random drug screening to be a deterrent. Develop a plan to implement this strategy at reasonable costs.
C. Begin Spring Semester, FY13, day one (1) with an anti-alcohol and drug education program in grades 3-10 through Health Education instruction. A VCS curriculum in Health Education is already written and contains a sound Alcohol and Drug Education Use/Abuse component. This Health Education curriculum should be taught by the regular classroom teacher 3 days per week in 30 minute lessons. I believe that this one initiative is so important to the lives and welfare of our children and young people, that if programmatically we need to drop or rotate a pull-out program at the elementary and middle school level we should do so beginning Spring Semester. As a school district this is the easiest strategy to accomplish and is in fact our core business. Related to this, the district should also begin a DARE program Spring Semester at the appropriate grade level.
D. Hire a temporary Behavioral Intervention
Specialist for Spring Semester. This person would:
1) search lockers in academic hallways and in the gym,
2) supervise egress and ingress of students to and from the campus throughout the day,
3) monitor parking lots and student traffic both in and out of parking lots and around automobiles,
4) supervise hall use by students during classes,
5) monitor the buildings and campus during lunch,
6) be available to students for confidential talk when students feel confident of this individual’s confidentiality and want to talk or share their awareness of substance use or possession,
7) be a liaison to the VCPD and AK Office of Child Services,
8) assist and chaperone dances, ballgames, and activities,
9) develop a rapport and confidential image with students.
E. No longer allow off campus lunch beginning Spring Semester except with specific guidelines. With this initiative shorten lunch to 36 minutes. The extra time can be divided between 7th and 8th periods Spring Semester FY13.
Discuss this strategy and the need for it with the Teacher Union VAFT in order to secure high school teacher support for this as a deterrent in alcohol and drug prevention/ intervention strategies. Closing the campus at lunch time is also a recommendation of the Valdez City Chief of Police. Teenagers are having entirely too much time at lunch unsupervised.
I recommend shortening lunch to 36 minutes. The current (58 minute) lunch period is too long and is unnecessary in the middle of the instructional day. Teachers would have their contract required “duty free” lunch period (30 minutes) and would return from lunch to assigned duty stations for the purpose of supervising students until the end of the lunch period. Student learning from socialization and free time can occur outside the school day under the supervision of parent/guardians.
I recommend these sorts of regulations concerning a closed campus:
1. No off campus lunch for 9th and 10thgraders beginning Spring Semester FY13 and forward. These grade levels would need to eat a school lunch, bring a lunch, or have parent pick-up to go off campus during lunch time and sign them back in.
2. I recommend that 11th and 12th graders have open campus privileges (may go home or to local restaurants for lunch) if they meet specific academic and attendance criteria (I suggest that 11th and 12th graders be in possession of and maintain a cumulative average of 90 with no tardies and no more than 1 absence for the preceding 9 week period).
If 11th and 12th graders are not in possession of these standards or do not maintain these standards at any point in the 9 week period their open campus privileges are suspended and will only be reviewed again in the next 9 week grading period.
I would also require 11th and 12th graders who hold the open campus lunch privileges to submit a signed and verified parent permission form indicating that parents/guardians are aware that they leave the campus for lunch. Additionally, I would institute a lunch card check-out system for 11th and 12th graders who have qualified for off campus lunch.
F. Further develop high school strategies already begun to intervene and prevent substance abuse by high school students. These strategies are:
1. Small group parent and community member weekly visits to the high school campus for the purpose of improved connectedness and transparency
2. Weekly “lunch and munch” seminars (film and guest speakers) on alcohol and drug abuse issues and topics of interest to teenagers (students would voluntarily bring their lunch to seminar to participate)
3. Review and publish a proactive 9th grade Health curriculum to parents/guardians regarding alcohol and drug prevention and intervention
4. Institute a 10th grade component of Health Education (4.5 weeks) in 10th grade PE for the purpose of teaching the legal ramifications of substance abuse
5. Review data from Accreditation Study FY12 by a faculty committee to identify other alcohol and drug prevention/intervention strategies
6. Develop and implement a parent/guardian volunteer program at the high school level
7. Initiate VHS Intervention Roundtable initiative such that all agencies involved with Valdez youth participate in for the purpose of sharing intervention information monthly
8. Spearhead planning for a community sponsored resiliency workshop for teenagers
9. Develop and implement a radio hotline for Parents and/or Guardians to call– when they need someone to talk with or discuss troubled parenting and/or “raising my teenager” issues
10. Provide a tape series available for checkout to interested parents on how to “survive and thrive with your teenager” or “how to manage your high school student with finesse”, etc.
I have always felt that competitive opinions, negatively expressed, between adults, typically create more negativity. Our VHS students, (my students, your sons and daughters) are an exceptional group of young men and women. I enjoy each one of them and the uniqueness they bring to the high school arena, every single day.
Do they always get things right, the first time . . . OF COURSE THEY DO NOT!
Valdez Star photo
While the Valdez school board hears from Bill Comer, Valdez police chief, about substance abuse issues amongst a number of community teenagers, Valdez High School principal Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek has written an in depth opinion piece on the issue.
But, when corrected do they respond with courtesy, manners and respect, for the most part . . . YOU BET THEY DO!
Am I interested in each one and their progress educationally on a daily basis . . . ABSOLUTELY!
Can we be proud of them individually and collectively . . . WITHOUT RESERVATION!
Let us together renew our commitment to educating the young people of this community and to protecting them aggressively from alcohol and substance abuses. Our conversation about risky behavior must be positively stated and remain so as we seek solutions together. Our high school students deserve such an approach.
Elizabeth B. Balcerek
Principal, Valdez High School