Student Well-Being Opinion

Are You Thinking About Heroin?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 28, 2016 4 min read
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Educators spend every day focused on creating environments in which students participate in learning opportunities that, over time, as a bank account of knowledge, skills and values that prepare them for a life of continued learning, meaningful work and invested citizenship and supportive families. If we are successful, we know and reach each student as we engage the landscape of all students.

It is difficult to do under the best circumstances but we do it in buildings bustling with the active lives of children and with the intersection of those lives with the teachers and staff there to guide and protect them. When things go wrong, when students arrive with burdens that affect their behavior, we get reawakened to the lives they live outside of our walls. Most often unable to change the stressors that the children bear, we design systems to ameliorate the distraction of those stressors and help refocus the children on to their job as learners. But drug use is not always something one can see or uncover when wondering why a student isn’t doing well. Meetings can be held, even tutoring or counseling can be put in place, but unless the fact that drugs are in play is uncovered, time is wasting.

We Have A Responsibility To Understand The Invisible

The list of potential stressors is endless. We must understand them and build systems and programs to counter them for the children. But in rural communities and in urban centers as well as suburban America, heroin is creeping into the lives of young people. According to an article in USNews.com heroin use has risen drastically in the categories of non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics since 2010.

Some believe we can ignore drug use before the teenage years because of an assumption that younger children do not use drugs but we remind ourselves that they live in families where brothers and sisters, parents, and even cousins and neighbors can be using drugs. With drugs a part of their home and community environment, the possibility of drug experimentation rises and acculturation into the environment becomes too easy. The presence of heroin in our neighborhoods often exists without even being known except perhaps by law enforcement and counseling communities. But, both are governed by strict confidentiality rules that might rally a community response before a loss of life or an arrest sounds the alarm and draws the attention and concern of all.

If educators are lucky enough to have lived a personal life not touched by drugs and addiction, then our understanding might be limited. Those among us, however, who have lived the closer to the world of addiction may possess greater awareness and understanding. But all of us share the responsibility for developing environments responsive to the intellectual, social, and emotional needs of our learners. In service to that responsibility, we think learning about the rising heroin epidemic and the changing views about how to respond to it is important.

A Free and Provocative Opportunity

FRONTLINE’s “Chasing Heroin,” produced by PBS, first aired on February 23rd, provides respectful and thorough coverage of the current heroin crisis as an expanding public health problem. We write often about targeted, purposeful professional development. This program offers an eye opening, thought provoking, awakening look at a problem that is arising in seemingly unlikely places. Watching it as a faculty, with students, and as a school community can raise awareness and initiate important discussions. Facilitating the presentations with the police, physicians, and recovering addicts can help move the discussion and the awareness along.

Will Students be College and Career Ready?

Not unlike initial bias associated with AIDS, heroin use has been associated with “them” not “us”. But, like AIDS, this is not an issue defined by race nor limited to any one socio-economic group. Some might argue, with some degree of data on their side, that this is exactly why it is receiving greater recent attention. Nevertheless, here we are now, confronted by a public health problem affecting all of us and infiltrating schools and the lives of our students.

Merely stern warnings that drugs are bad does not play well with adolescents. College, career and life ready graduates are young men and women who know the impact of their choices in regard to drugs and to diseases that can be communicated by being uninformed and /or careless. As communities, it is important to learn about this, together. Understanding the grip of heroin addiction as a public health issue with serious consequences for the addicted and for those who love that person can help students make better choices and increase empathy as well. Those who are fighting the grip of addictions are in a life struggle. Chasing Heroin offers a riveting look inside that world so that hopefully, our communities and the students within them don’t have to learn it by going there themselves.

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Photo by nasirkhan courtesy of 123rf

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.