Parents' Anti-Drug Group Discusses Need for Joint Efforts With Schools
Arlington, Va--Members of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, who gathered here for a three-day summit meeting last week, say they do not blame school officials for drug-abuse problems in high schools, but they do expect them to help with solutions.
"Our whole approach is non-blaming," said Mary Jacobson, chairman of the coalition of grassroots parents' groups. "Our main effort is to prevent drug use by young people, and of course we would like to work with the schools wherever possible."
The federation, which now has about 4,000 members, was formed three years ago after First Lady Nancy Reagan called representatives of local anti-drug groups together to spearhead an Administration campaign against the use of drugs by young people. Mrs. Reagan, who was honorary chairman of the conference, addressed last week's second annual meeting. Other high-ranking Reagan Administration officials also made appearances.
Hazards of Drug Use
Because educating teen-agers about the hazards of drug use is key to most of the parents' prevention programs, the groups often "start with the school superintendent." The reaction from administrators usually is positive, parents said at the conference; in most cases, they said, school-parent cooperation is crucial to implementing a drug-education program at the community level.
"The school is really the one institution where you have an impact on the most number of students," said Gene Graves, chairman of the federation's education committee and the principal of the Junior High School of the Kennebunks in Maine.
Because every parent group and every school district is different, speakers said, schools have become involved in the anti-drug programs in a variety of ways.
In Carlinville, Ill., the superintendent of schools is a board member of the local parent group and worked with the group to develop a drug education curriculum in the schools. In Maine, the state board of education sponsors intensive training programs for teams of teachers, students, parents, and community leaders. Other schools simply invite speakers in to talk about drug abuse.
But obtaining the cooperation of school officials is not always easy, some parents said. "I've had the door slammed in my face," one told conference participants.
But Ms. Jacobson said most administrators will eventually see merit in what parents are attempting to do, "if the approach is right."
"Instead of just going to the schools and saying, 'We're having this meeting for the parents,"' she explained, "We went to the superintendents of schools and said, 'We're going to be doing a workshop and we would like to invite teens from all schools. We would like your support."'
One of the major hurdles for the groups is getting over "the Wall of Denial," according to Ms. Jacobson. She said school officials have written to her to say "thank you, but we don't have a drug problem in our school," a response she called an "understandable reaction."
"The principal or superintendent may feel that it's his prestige on the line," she added. "'If it ever gets out that we have anyone in this school who uses, then I won't have done a good job, I won't be considered a good educator."'
Some principals and teachers also look at drug-education programs as "just one more thing," Mr. Graves said. "They're tired of trying to cure all the world's social ills in a six-hour school day, when their job is to educate students.
"But what we're facing is an epidemic of substance abuse," Mr. Graves argued. "Sure, basic academics should come first, but it's not black and white--all math and reading and no other programs. There are certain priorities and this should be a priority."
Ultimately, the parents said, schools will want to cooperate in anti-drug programs because such ef-forts are in their self-interest.
"It's just easier to teach straight kids," said Joan Bellm, founding president of the Marijuana Education Committee, a group established in Carlinville. She said that when she encounters a reluctant superintendent, she asks one question: "How would you like to sit down and teach a drunk?"
Although several of the recent national reports on education have criticized the schools for spending too much classroom time on nonacademic matters, school officials say that serious problems of drugs and alcohol unavoidably command their attention.
3.3 Million Problem Drinkers
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics indicate that 3.3 million teen-agers are problem drinkers and that 60,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19 enter drug therapy each year for marijuana- and alcohol-related problems.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals recently distributed a packet of drug-abuse information to its members. The National p.t.a. also has become more active in the anti-drug movement and, according to Denise Carter, director of the group's effort, has awarded 32 grants to pta chapters in cities around the country to develop community drug-abuse-prevention programs. Some of the prevention programs include developing a curriculum for use in local public and private schools.
Mr. Graves said the federation's education committee this year will examine various curricula that have worked in communities and may develop guidelines for a national curriculum.
Although education programs are extremely important to the anti-drug movement, Ms. Jacobson said, so is the involvement of the entire community, from schools to health agencies to law-enforcement officers.
"Too often we go to the schools and say, 'Now you solve it,"' she said. "And what we really need is to work as a team."