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North High participates in initiative

After receiving positive feedback from the parents of Northern Middle School students, officials with the Safe Homes Project dec

After receiving positive feedback from the parents of Northern Middle School students, officials with the Safe Homes Project dec

December 02, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Positive feedback from Northern Middle School parents involved in last year's experiment with the Safe Homes Project prompted Jim Conrad to set his sights on North Hagerstown High School in 2002.

"We sent out 2,000 letters the first of this school year," Conrad said from his office at the Washington County Health Department.

Those parents were asked to talk to their children about drugs, alcohol, tobacco, guns and many other dangers that young people face in their daily lives. And they were asked to respond to Conrad.

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"So far, we've gotten 343 letters back," Conrad said. "I'm now in the process of sending out the list."

The total number of responses is up to 538 from the two targeted schools and several others attended by younger or older siblings in the targeted homes, Conrad said.

That list contains the names of all the other parents who agreed to promise they would not allow alcohol, drugs, tobacco or other harmful substances in their homes.

"I added guns to the list this year," Conrad said. "Parents may take all the precautions with firearms in their house but what about the home where their teen might be visiting a friend?"

And then there's sex.

Conrad said parents need to be aware that young people are most likely to engage in risky sexual activities between 3 and 6 p.m. in homes - after school and before parents get home from work.

Conrad said he got good feedback from parents involved in the Safe Homes Project at Northern Middle. Many parents said they feel a little better now that they have a list of other parents who also want to keep better track of their teenage children's activities.

"We tell parents that they may have a great house but it is known that most kids have and will ride in a vehicle with someone who is intoxicated," Conrad said. "Sometimes it's other kids, but it can be the parents of other kids or after a baby-sitting situation."

"Each parent who returned a pledge card will receive a directory of safe homes with names and phone numbers," said Conrad, who coordinates the health department's underage drinking project.

Parents are encouraged to refer to the directory when making decisions with their teens about attending social events, Conrad said.

According to figures in the Maryland Adolescent Survey, local students are starting to use cigarettes, alcohol and drugs at a younger age.

"We know that 9-year-olds are starting to experiment with liquor," Conrad said.

The key to preventing such activity is education - coupled with roadblocks designed to keep young people from having the opportunity to drink, use drugs and smoke, he said.

Northern Middle School and North High parents who got the letter were asked to discuss the safe homes pledge with their children, Conrad said. A newsletter is sent to all pledged households.

The newsletter informs parents about drugs and how to spot the signs that a child is using, alcohol's impact on young lives and how to talk with children about these substances.

Parents agree to pledge they won't allow parties or gatherings in their home when they aren't home and they won't serve or allow underage youths to use alcohol, illegal drugs or tobacco in their home, Conrad said.

For more information on the program, contact Conrad at 240-313-3360.

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