Cavazos: Drug Programs 'Worth the Effort'

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Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos discussed drug education in a May 25 speech to Central and South American journalists attending the Voice of America's International Training Center Workshop in Washington. Following are excerpts from his remarks:

We don't know all the answers as we pursue our war on drugs. But although there are many unknowns, there is one thing of which we can be certain: We did not get into this problem quickly and we won't get out of it quickly. There is no quick fix, no way to sugar-coat the situation. And in this country, nowhere are our efforts against the scourge of drugs more important--and their effects more far-reaching--than in our schools.

We hear a lot of horror stories about drug abuse and drugs in schools. Unfortunately, they're true. But I also want to talk about some of the successes that programs in this country are having in stopping the epidemic of drug abuse by America's children. ...

At a school for 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds, Newsome Park Middle School in Newport News, Va., liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia once littered the streets and schoolyard. Today, the school grounds are clean, and there have been no recorded incidents of drug use by students since 1985. The changes have come thanks to a tough anti-drug policy that is strongly endorsed by students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Students, parents, and the local community got behind the anti-drug effort and made it work.

In Tucson, Ariz., Flowing Wells High School also helped students with a tough anti-drug policy and alternative programs for violators, including in-school suspension. Eighty percent of the students who violate the anti-drug policy, but choose programs that allow them to stay in school, remain drug-free throughout the period of their suspension.

Commodore Stockton Skills School in Stockton, Calif., serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade. Four years ago, in response to a drug-related incident involving several students, a school policy on drug abuse was developed for all grades and tied into student classwork. In addition, an education program for teachers and parents was started, along with parent- and student-support groups, and outside funds were collected to help implement the anti-drug programs in the school. The efforts have paid off. Each month, parents of Commodore Stockton students donate 400 volunteer hours to aid teachers. Behavioral problems are infrequent ... attendance is high ... and more than 80 percent of the students test at grade level or above.

We are proud of the gains these schools and others have made. But there is a flip side to these successes that is as frightening as it is frustrating. It is frustrating that parent volunteers must spend their time on drug-prevention efforts instead of tutoring math or science. Frustrating that funds willingly donated by local businesses must be spent on anti-drug brochures instead of new textbooks, computers to assist students and lighten teachers' loads, or materials for state-of-the-art chemistry instruction.

I find it frightening that we must educate 4-year-olds about the dangers of drug use. Frightening that school security guards are now actually having to carry guns. And frightening that, while the police in Stockton report no juvenile drug arrests from Commodore Stockton students, drug arrests of students from other schools in the city are common.

It is disillusioning for parents and teachers to watch their tireless efforts merely hold the problem at bay instead of solve it. But we are fighting drug abuse because we have seen what it can do to individual students, to families, to schools, and to communities. According to psychologists, right here in Washington, increasing numbers of children are beginning to show signs of "battle fatigue" because of constant exposure to the drug wars near their schools and in their neighborhoods.

We want our teachers to be enthusiastic, compassionate, caring role models who spend their time working with our children and doing what has always been expected--teaching. We see them instead becoming the shell-shocked troops of modern America, intercepting drugs and administering discipline instead of introducing knowledge and fielding questions.

Economists conservatively estimate that drug use costs our nation about $60 billion annually in lost productivity, accidents, and illness. But, what price tag do we put on lost opportunity? How shall we measure society's loss of the young man or woman who could have made a technological breakthrough, cured a disease, or shaped the values of a new generation of children? How shall we measure the loss of self-worth in a drug-involved youngster and the pain to family and friends that accompanies drug use?

The problem, of course, goes beyond illicit drugs alone. Abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol kills thousands in this country every year. But it is particularly discouraging when experts tell us that worldwide production of coca, marijuana, opium poppies, and hashish increased sharply last year. Soon, we will see the result of this increased production in the form of8even larger quantities of drugs on the streets of our communities.

No, stopping drugs before they reach our kids won't erase the problem. But it could go a long way toward making our first-priority efforts--education in the traditional sense--much easier and much more effective.

But, as long as we have a drug-abuse problem, we'll be fighting it hard. At the local level, we've found that the most successful drug-prevention programs have several things in common:

  • First, we must have drug-prevention education for students at virtually all levels of their schooling--from kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • Second, prevention should be a part of schoolwork across the board: biology classes that teach the effects of drug use on the body; English classes where essay assignments include topics such as drug use and peer pressure; and so on.
  • Third, strict no-use drug-abuse policies--that are enforced--must form the basis for all programs and actions.
  • And finally, we know that the most successful programs are comprehensive. When schools, students, parents, and the community work together to combat substance abuse, the positive results are multiplied that many times and more....

Across America, at every level, students, parents, teachers, and communities are fighting drug abuse and drugs in schools because they know that the results are worth the effort. But we're not kidding ourselves about the patience and resolve we must have, often just to keep our heads above water. The progress we have made is encouraging, but our efforts only scratch the tip of the iceberg.

As we deal with this problem, I think it's vital to keep the human element in mind. We're dealing with a deadly situation that affects acquaintances, friends, our neighbors, our children. Drugs are a poison that is killing thousands, disabling thousands, and pulling families apart. We can't just keep it at arm's length with "preventive efforts." We must all be involved in stopping this horrible plague. If we don't, we might lose the potential of many of our sons and daughters. And if that happens, who will lead our nations into the future?

Vol. 8, Issue 37, Page 16

Published in Print: June 7, 1989, as Cavazos: Drug Programs 'Worth the Effort'
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