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Schools can deal with drugs

Can schools effectively deal with the drug and alcohol problem, and should schools become involved?

The answer is yes!

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But some schools continue to use the traditional approach. In these schools, information is provided through health classes stressing medical findings, related legal ramifications, and other types of ''scare tactics.'' Law enforcement people and doctors are brought into classrooms to discuss the consequences of drug and alcohol use. Antidrug films are shown. Ex-addicts describe how their lives have been ruined by drugs.

The result is that what teen-agers are learning in the classroom is often not what they are seeing in the streets and on the school campuses.

School personnel need to take a new look at how successful programs operate. They need to accept the fact that effective change requires strong commitment and strenuous effort.

At El Toro High School, located in Southern Orange County, Calif., an innovative and successful drug and alcohol program has been operating since the 1979-80 school year. The El Toro program, ''Awareness '82,'' advocates a ''pro-active'' approach in dealing with the problems related to teen-age drug/alcohol use and abuse.

The original goal of the program was to provide an alternative to the suspension and transfer of students apprehended for the possession or use of drugs and/or alcohol. Additionally, the El Toro staff formulated other equally essential goals: to develop a positive, supportive, and preventive approach to the myriad problems related to teen-age drug abuse; to provide an opportunity to educate parents and community members about drugs and alcohol; to teach communication skills and parenting techniques; and, finally, to improve the school's image in the community.

As ''Awareness '82'' evolved, each of the original goals was accomplished amid growing support from the district administration and the board of trustees. The El Toro High School staff had broken the unwritten rule of upper middle-class schools and had admitted that students do use drugs and alcohol.

The position taken was that chemical abuse and dependency is a primary disease, not a symptom of other problems, and that, while schools are not the cause of chemical dependency and therefore cannot assume sole responsibility for the solution, they offer one of the most effective places within the community to begin dealing with the problem. Chemical abuse affects not only the victim but also all others close to the victim, including school personnel.

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A group of volunteer teachers was trained to lead student support groups and to actively participate in student and parent seminars. Also, a comprehensive staff development program was organized to establish the support of the entire school staff. To complement the regularly scheduled staff development seminars, all-school assemblies were held. These assemblies were truly a unique example of staff cooperation. The entire English department was released for two full days to design curricula while an assistant principal met with all English classes in the school auditorium for a drug and alcohol education seminar.

These seminars included information about drinking and driving, and they were held just prior to the junior-senior prom. As an additional community service, the parent-teacher organization, at the request of parents, set up informal meetings to bring school personnel into the homes of community members to explain the school program and to raise the level of community awareness about this problem.

At the conclusion of the 1980-81 school year, evaluations indicated that this innovative program was appreciated by students, parents, faculty, and especially the community. Attitudes on the campus regarding drugs and alcohol were changing. Students began to approach counselors, administrators, and teachers asking for help to handle drug and alcohol related problems. They began to feel that school personnel were available for help rather than to punish and ridicule them for their involvement with drugs or alcohol.

The true compliment was the request by three other schools outside the district for assistance in developing similar programs for their own schools. Inquiries regarding the program have been received from as far away as Washington, Michigan, and New Jersey.

For the school year 1981-82 two more components were added. The first involved teacher training; the second, additional involvement for students.

Volunteer students attended a week-long training session during the summer and received training in basic counseling techniques. They developed listening and communication skills and practiced group leadership skills. They act as ''buddies'' for new students enrolling in school; and they have prepared a skit on divorce along with discussion questions for presentation at the elementary and intermediate school level. These dedicated students also serve as assistants to school counselors and work with their peers on a one-to-one basis.

Does all this work? Written evaluations completed by parents, teachers, and students indicate success in several areas. Primarily, student knowledge regarding chemicals has increased dramatically. Second, student attitudes regarding their own drug and alcohol use have changed. Third, students now understand that school personnel are supportive. Therefore, they are less fearful to ask for assistance when they have a problem. Overall, ''Awareness '82 '' has been extremely successful and beneficial to the entire school community.

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