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Task force to tackle substance abuse in schools

January 11, 2002

Task force to tackle substance abuse in schools



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Hank Rauer recalled his childhood, describing it as a time when youngsters cared more about following orders and doing chores than getting involved with drugs and alcohol.

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"I don't remember having any lesson in what you should not do," Rauer, 84, said. "It was what you had to do. I would go to school, go shopping, deliver newspapers."

Decades later, Rauer sits on the new Washington County Public Schools Alcohol and Drug Task Force, which will try to help prevent today's youth from substance use and abuse.

"We're to blame," Rauer said. "All we have to do is the right thing."

The committee, an idea of Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan, held its first meeting Thursday night at the Board of Education's central office.

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So far, 30 Washington County parents, community members, teachers, health professionals, drug prevention and law enforcement officials have joined the committee.

Board administrators said they were looking for more people, including business leaders, politicians, professionals in the juvenile justice and legal field, students, doctors and principals to sign up.

Morgan charged the group with developing creative ideas to fight substance use and abuse among the county's youth and to evaluate the school system's drug prevention programs.

"I'm not sure the programs we have are working as well as they should," Morgan said.

She proposed forming the committee in October after the 2001 Maryland Adolescent Survey indicated a higher percentage of Washington County public school sophomores and seniors had used Ecstasy, marijuana, crack, cocaine and LSD than their peers across the state.

For example, 3.4 percent of Washington County sophomores who responded to the survey in 1998 said they used Ecstasy, according to the survey. That percentage jumped to 17.4 percent of sophomores in 2001.

The survey indicates 9.1 percent of seniors who responded used Ecstasy in 1998, compared with 17.1 percent in 2001.

"We really need to solve this," Morgan said. "We'll lose kids educationally. A kid is not available to us if they're stoned."

Morgan said kids who use drugs are more likely to drop out of school, end up in jail or sell drugs.

Mike Keefer, a retired correctional officer who worked at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, suggested the committee consider a program called Crime Awareness Reinforcement Education (CARE), which shows students the consequences of making poor choices.

"We really try to get right in their faces with it," he said.

School Board employee Dave Brown said he joined the group because he wanted to do what he could to keep kids off drugs.

"I'm really tired of seeing kids out on the streets taking drugs," he said.

The committee created a tentative list of about 20 drug prevention goals but will decide which ones to focus on at its next meeting, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.

Some of the tentative goals include educating parents and guardians about signs and symptoms of drug use, implementing support groups in the schools, increasing opportunities for student activities and involvement and helping students, families and faculty to understand patterns and reasons why people use and abuse substances.

Bonnie Forsyth, the board's coordinator of safe and drug-free schools, told the committee members the school system would take their findings seriously.

"We're not going to spend two or three months working on programs, and then you're never going to hear" about them again, she said. "You will see whatever we come up with is going to be put into place."

To volunteer for the task force or for more information, contact Forsyth at 301-766-2989.

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