On Monday night a community forum on alcohol and drug use and how it relates to children was held at the Crescenta Valley High School Mac Donald auditorium.
â€œThis is really a follow up to our Every 15 Minutes program,â€ said Linda Evans, principal of the high school.
For two days, March 25-26, the program brought seniors and juniors into a world none would ever want to go. The first day, students experienced a mock collision on Ramsdell Avenue where they were witness to the reality of what happens after a drunken student gets behind the wheel. During that first day, students were taken out of class every 15 minutes, representing statistics that a person dies every 15 minutes due to an alcohol related accident. This statistic has changed slightly since the program's 1995 conception. Those taken from the class were away from family and friends overnight, then returned the following day to share their experience with the students.
â€œIt was intense for two days but then it is over,â€ Evans said. â€œWe didn't want the subject to get lost.â€
Evans said that another reason for the forum was to meet, head-on, a recent rise in expulsions. In the 2006-07 school year. the high school expelled 28 students but this year, as of April 1, the number of expulsions was 30.
A meeting between school staff, law enforcement, counselors and committee members resulted in Monday night's forum. Student resource officer Deputy Scott Shinagawa introduced Sgt. Harold Chilstrom from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's narcotics division.
Chilstrom told the audience of parents, students and community members the variety of drugs available and are being used by kids in the Crescenta Valley area. These include Ecstasy, a mood enhancing drug; Methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that stimulates the central nervous system; mushrooms, a hallucinogenic; and marijuana.
The sergeant made it clear that the responsibility of monitoring a child's drug use falls to the parent because they will be the ones to see the signs first. He stressed that open communication is key to battling any drug problem their child may have and the best way to make certain their child stays away from drug use.
â€œAs a parent, it is your duty and responsibility to go into your student's room, look through their dresser and their backpack,â€ he said.
Chilstrom said that if their child is using drugs, the signs are there if the parent is vigilant and looks for them.
â€œYou know your son or daughter, you know when something is wrong,â€ he added.
A drug awareness display was placed on a table at the front of the auditorium along with pamphlets that explained the warning signs of drug use. Those signs included slurred speech, glassy eyes, nervousness, irritability, lack of concentration and new friends that the parents may not know.
â€œDon't be afraid to talk to your student,â€ he said. â€œGet involved â€” that's the main thing. Get involved,â€ Chilstrom said.
To discuss more of the warning signs, Dr. Greg Lizer, a pediatrician from Descanso Pediatrics, took the podium. He confirmed that the warning signs would be there but added that many of the signs are typical of simply being a teenager.
â€œIt may sound like every teenager, but if you put it all together it makes more sense,â€ he said. â€œChanges in his (hers) eating habits, sleep patterns, dropping in grades, mood swings, [being with] a new crowd, secrecy and dishonesty.â€
If the student exhibits all or most of these, then a parent needs to be concerned and ask questions. The child is getting the drugs from somewhere if he has new friends, Lizer suggested, and parents should find out who those kids are and their families.
â€œAnd when you confront your child, do not do it in public in front of friends,â€ Lizer warned.
Having a public confrontation would only widen the gap between parent and child, he added.
Lizer said that many parents that have been confronted with a drug use problem have asked him to drug test their child.
â€œI can tell you that the majority will come back negative,â€ he told the audience.
The reasons, he said, can be due to the fact that kids get on the Internet and learn the best way to pass a drug test or the parent happened to get the child when he wasn't on anything.
â€œAnd by the time you come to us and say I think my kid's doing drugs, in general, that boat sailed a year ago,â€ Lizer said.
He also stressed that communication with children is the key to preventing drug use.
â€œAnd the fact that you [audience] are here is a great step,â€ he said. â€œAnd for those of you that will go home and talk to your kids about this: bravo.â€
He warned that if the parent asks their pediatrician to drug test their child before talking to him or her and learning about their friends, they could risk losing that child's trust.
â€œAnd that is a difficult thing to get back,â€ he said.
He added that pediatricians do not want to lose that child's trust either because at times they may be the one the child reaches out to for help.
â€œHave a dialogue with your kids,â€ he said. â€œMake it a daily conversation.â€
Associate principal Chris Coulter then took the podium to explain the types of deterrent programs the school has sponsored including Every 15 Minutes and Prom Plus, the after hours prom program. The organization's goal is to keep students off the street and safe on prom night.
â€œI don't know if you know this, but that whole 'Just say no' program doesn't work. The kids need a reason,â€ he said.
The school administration and staff tries to reinforce the reasons to stay off drugs and alcohol through a series of programs.
â€œWhat we are finding is that the marijuana is laced with other things,â€ he said. â€œSo many of the kids don't even know what they are smoking.â€
Chilstrom confirmed that marijuana is laced with a variety of drugs including heroin.
â€œThe problem is this isn't a measured drug so they really don't know how much heroin they are smoking.â€
Coulter said the school is attempting to be proactive in responding to the issue with education to prevent drug use and also in making certain that those who bring drugs and alcohol onto the campus are caught.
The school has trained their teachers in recognizing the symptoms of drug and alcohol use and has breathalyzers on campus. And once a month the Interquest Detection Canines walk the hallways and classrooms to sniff out any problems. Counselors are also available at the school for students and parents.