As Willis Hall reels from the shock of the expulsion of four students for drug use on a school trip several weeks ago, questions arise regarding how these offenses can be prevented in the future.
Drugs, both legal and illegal, continue to play an increasingly larger role in American society. North Cross, however, is explicit in its rejection of drug and alcohol use on and off campus. According to the North Cross Student and Parent Handbook, “NCS believes that no level of adolescent involvement with drugs and alcohol is healthy or safe. Therefore, students will always hear as part of our programming that we believe they should be drug and alcohol free throughout their high school years.” While a student cannot be suspended or expelled for using drugs outside of campus, North Cross reserves the right to discipline students and notify their parents if the school becomes aware of these activities. Although North Cross condemns drug and alcohol use, no plan or curriculum exists which could serve to educate the student body on these substances.
Headmaster Dr. Christian J. Proctor strongly believes that drug education is a necessary and essential component of a high-school education. A drug education program is “high on [Proctor’s] wish list,” although North Cross currently lacks such a curriculum.
“The reality is the best step we can take [to prevent drug use] is finding a counselor who has experience in drug and alcohol education who puts together a consistent, stable, ongoing drug education program,” Proctor said. “When kids are exposed to a message multiple times by someone they have a relationship with, that’s the best way to reduce drug use.”
Without an adequate drug education program that students can engage with and learn from, North Cross students are much less likely to gain a balanced, educated and objective understanding of the dangers of narcotics. While parents do have a responsibility to educate their children on the dangers of alcohol and drugs as well, North Cross cannot rely on their instruction alone. By lacking a drug and alcohol curriculum, North Cross is increasing the risk of its students using, abusing and becoming addicted to illicit substances.
The largest obstacle in the way of a comprehensive program for drug education is a lack of specific expertise and funds, as Proctor explained.
“Primarily [what is preventing a program] is that there’s a certain skill set you have to have to be able to create a drug/alcohol learning program ... and we don’t have anybody on campus right now that has the skill set or the time in their schedule,” Proctor said. “... most schools where there’s a program like that, there’s somebody whose pretty heavily tasked with that as their goal.”
Addressing the problem of drug use is not easy, as there is no one factor that leads to drug use; instead it is a compilation of conditions and lapses of judgment. Upper School Director Mark Thompson sees drug prevention as a three-fingered operation.
“There are probably three different pieces to combating drug use in the school: what students can do, what the school can do and what the parents can do,” he said. “No one individual can be entirely responsible, although students ultimately make the choices to use or not to use; it is in the control of the students. There is only so much parents and the school can do; it needs to be an effort by all three.”
These efforts in many schools culminate in a drug education program, which North Cross does not currently have. This does not mean that the school has its head in the sand; rather it is a monetary issue.
“We are trying to work a counselor into the budget,” Thompson said. “Right now we do not have personnel to formally address drug and alcohol issues, but that has been a topic of conversation with Dr. Proctor. It is something that we are trying to do, but we are trying to fit it into the budget.”
As Thompson referred to, the parents of students have a large role in preventing drug use. Not only do parents have the opportunity to supervise their children’s behavior, they also have the responsibility to help them distinguish right from wrong and make smart decisions.
“Parents need to in some cases have honest conversations with their children about what they are doing,” he said. “Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and do their best to know where they are and whom they are with.”
The bottom line is very simple: drugs such as marijuana and alcohol have a hold on part of our student body. What we do as a student body and as a community will define our future as a legitimate safe learning environment. Thompson does not see drugs as a new issue and has maintained an identical stance on the issue both before and after the most recent incident.
“My message is the same whether it is before or after: alcohol and drugs have no place in the lives of teenagers in terms of them being productive,” he said. “Unfortunately, I fully realize that teenagers will experiment and in some cases use drugs and alcohol. Studies have shown that for students who use drugs and alcohol, the earlier they start, the bigger the issue can be, and there is nothing productive about it.”
Whenever a drug related incident does occur, Proctor has also been consistent in his message to the student body.
“I’ve been working with teens as a teacher and an administrator for 27 years, since ‘88,” Proctor said, “and the reality is when we look at marijuana use as teachers and as educators ... we see kids becoming less interested ... and now is the time you are supposed to be interested.”
However, post-drug-incident exhortations by the Headmaster are not enough to eliminate North Cross’s drug problem. The only way to effectively deal with the issue at hand is a comprehensive drug-education program, and this essential tool is dangerously absent from the school. Until such a program is created, drug-incidents will continue to occur and lives will continue to be scarred by the consequences.