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Board of Education reviews district-based programs in place to stop substance abuse

on February 4, 2020

The Warwick Valley Central School District Board of Education held a special work session on the evening of January 27, 2020, to review the District’s approach to student drug abuse education. Parents, school leaders, students, and members of the Warwick Valley Prevention Coalition joined the discussion to focus on both national and local trends involving substance abuse issues. A review of supports currently in place to help students, faculty, and parents deal with growing substance abuse issues occurred. The group identified the need to bring greater awareness of the substance abuse issues our students face today. Finally, the group discussed new interventions the school could implement to curtail student drug use.         This examination included a closer look at Warwick students’ reported attitudes about, and use of, drugs among Warwick Valley 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Encouraging trends continue with cigarette and alcohol use. However, the most recent findings from the Youth Development survey in 2018 remain concerning:

 

  • 30% of 10th graders and 50% of 12th graders indicate they have smoked E-cigarettes/vaped.
  • 40% of 12th graders think it is fine to use prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • 50% of 12th graders share that they have used marijuana.

   Dr. David Leach, Superintendent of Schools, explains, “In years past, the practice of school districts surveying students about drug use and sharing these results with their communities was considered taboo by some, fearing the findings would cast a shadow on their school communities. Similar to all school communities throughout the country, we’ve got a problem with student drug, alcohol, and vaping use. And we–faculty, staff, parents, students, and community members–must share in the responsibility to keep our children off drugs. Our school district and the Warwick community’s prevention efforts are undoubtedly a model for others; yet, we must do more.”

        The Warwick Valley Central School District has been making many strides to not only bring awareness to these trends, but to combat substance abuse issues by providing help for parents and students.  Middle School Principal George Diopoulos and some Middle School students who attended the work session shared that, “As our students get older, it is more socially acceptable to use drugs and alcohol.  It is perceived as ‘cooler’ and helps kids deal with stress when they use substances.”  Principal Diopoulos also shared that to address student stressors, she has implemented monthly “ROAR” lessons that address topics like healthy ways to manage stress.  “We want kids to know that there are healthy tools they can use to cope with the stress in their lives; we have also created a Middle School Prevention Coalition Team.  We started by training staff about what vapes look like and then brought in programs like ‘Hidden Mischief’ to help parents identify signs of substance abuse in their children’s bedrooms.  This education is truly eye-opening for our parents.”  Principal Diopoulos further commented that she also had worked extensively with Annie Colonna of the Warwick Valley Prevention Coalition to bring the “Guiding Good Choices” program to the Middle School.  She also formed a Middle School SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) Club and has teamed up with the High School in their efforts to help curtail the growing vaping epidemic among students. 

        High School Principal Marguerite Fusco noted that she has held faculty meetings to educate teachers about the dangers of vaping.  She and her administrative team have implemented changes in practice so that students who are caught vaping must take a 3-hour online course about the dangers of vaping in addition to serving a school consequence.  The institution of the course work on vaping seems to have had a positive effect in that the incidence rate of repeat offenders has dropped.  High School SADD advisor Kaitlyn Rodriguez discussed the many initiatives the club has taken to bring awareness to these issues.  She stated, “We have almost 30 students in SADD, which is our highest number ever.  We have developed an Instagram page, and we use it to highlight events such as Red Ribbon Week, the American Heart Association’s Quit Lying Campaign, and banner signings.  We have also held a door decorating contest to bring awareness to wiping out distracted driving in the hopes of spreading our message to greater numbers of students.  For Valentines Day, we hope to send “flower grams” to continue to spread positive messages about safety throughout the school.” 

        Ryan Caldwell from the Warwick Valley Prevention Coalition commended the District’s efforts and the steps Warwick has taken to move the District and community forward to spread awareness.  “When we empower youth, we can achieve a lot more…we have kids here at Warwick who are ready to help.  Peer to peer interaction is always going to yield the best results.”  Also taking part in the conversation was Steven Pack, a Warwick parent and co-chair of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Sub-Committee of Orange County.  As Steve pointed out, “Warwick is far ahead of other Districts in the area in terms of the measures they are taking to combat drug abuse and increase awareness in families.”  Pack also noted that “There is a definite link to mental health here; a host of reasons as to why kids are doing it.  Trends change quickly.  What is popular with vaping today may be edibles by tomorrow.”  Interested in bringing the rates of drug abuse down, Pack is working with various county stakeholders, including the O-U BOCES. Through O-U BOCES, these efforts extend to all of the Districts in the county.

        Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach thanked all members of the community for partnering and joining the conversation.  He stated, “Drug and alcohol use by our students is unacceptable. Our comprehensive approach to drug and alcohol prevention hinges on strong K-12 curricula, educational prevention programs, parent outreach, and substance abuse counseling.  When a student is using drugs, he or she needs a host of strategies aimed to promote a healthy lifestyle. We’ve got some work to do!”

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