NORTH KINGSTOWN –According to the Health and Wellness Survey the North Kingstown High School conducted in 2008, 92 percent of students who could drive reported having consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
One year later, that number has dropped to 20 percent.
At last week’s NK School Committee meeting, Working Together for Wellness (WTW) discussed how the community and school can help prevent substance abuse within the school district.
WTW director Kathy Yeager, along with Laura Hosley, Rhode Island Student Assistance Services Manager of Community Prevention, and school nurse, Lori Maroni, did a brief overview of what WTW is doing to try and prevent underage drinking and substance abuse.
Last year, WTW received a $125,000 federal grant. During the first year of the grant, WTW will be working to compile transition toolkits for students entering high school and conduct compliance checks on local businesses about where tobacco products are being stored. It will also develop a website, school tobacco policy, tobacco product ordinance, media campaign, online tobacco courses and social norms marketing campaign.
In year two of the grant, WTW will be working to begin a take-back prescription drug campaign; drug recognition enforcement trainings for police and school administrators; parent/teen driving contracts; education of youth through speakers and motivational interviewing through student assistance counselors.
Other statistics presented at the meeting were from the 2009 National Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey given to students in grades nine through twelve. In that survey, alcohol use was up 11 percent, marijuana use was up 18 percent and ecstasy use was up 67 percent.
In early October, in collaboration between WTW and School Committee Chairperson Larry Ceresi, a policy was drafted that would require seniors to watch a local video on the consequences of driving under the influence, take a test on the video and have students and parents sign a form stating that they’ve watched it. If the student violates this policy, his/her parking pass would be revoked.
School Committee members and the public were able to view the video which starred local high school students and residents affected by underage drinking and drugs.
“As you’ll hear in the video, many of the high school students we interviewed stated their fellow students openly talk about getting drunk or high,” Yeager said. “Many of them feel that’s what they’re supposed to be doing as teenagers.”
It irritates Alex, a NKHS student in the video, when he hears people doing irresponsible things such as drinking and driving and getting high, thus putting other lives at risk.
“The good thing is that you don’t hear a lot of people getting pressured to do these kinds of things,” said another student from the video, identified as Samantha.
A male student, who wanted to keep his face and voice unrecognizable, said he first started doing it with friends, but it wasn’t as extreme. Then he started doing it by himself, which turned into an addiction.
“I didn’t want my parents to find out and feel that they were bad parents,” the student said. “I didn’t want to turn this into a big thing and I didn’t want them to think I was a screw-up or involve them in my drama.”
The video also shows resident Kay Cutting describing the 1982 murder of her father, Zeke Harris, by a 33 year-old addict who needed money for cocaine and heroin. The year after his death, she knew she had to do something positive in the community so she became an admissions counselor at a local alcohol rehab facility where she worked for six years.
Local resident Robin Monica lost her son, Jeff, in 2002 when he was driving too fast under the influence, lost control of his vehicle and hit a telephone pole. She explained the need to start public speaking and getting the word out about driving under the influence. She’s played an active role in WTW’s projects as well as the recent campaigns.
“So, how do we prevent underage drinking?,” Maroni said. “There are many things we can do. Perhaps increase alcohol prices through taxes; limit alcohol advertising and promotional activities that target young people. There are many things we can do, but we need the involvement of the community and school district to do so.”
The parking permit policy is still a work in progress and WTW is hoping to solicit more input. For now, it’s only in the preparation stages. The policy sub-committee is scheduled to meet on Dec. 6.
“You’ve done so many amazing things and this film is one of them and it’s a very powerful one,” School Committee member Lynda Avanzato said. “It has such an emotional impact that I think students will take notice,”