NT fighting drug perception battle
Students stream along the streets and sidewalks heading into New Trier High School for the first day of school. | file photo
NORTHFIELD — Though studies show substance abuse numbers at New Trier High School are below the national average the district still has a tough battle fighting perception.
At its Jan. 22 meeting, the New Trier School Board heard a presentation from student assistance program coordinator Kristine Schmitt, who provided results from student surveys regarding alcohol and drug use.
According to the data New Trier students use cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana at levels below the national average, but students perceive their peers as using the substances at very high levels.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is perception and reality are very different from one another,” said assistant superintendent Tim Hayes. “Persistent perception is that everyone is doing it, but kids say they, their friends, etc. are not doing it. A perception exists and it’s hard to combat that.”
The survey has been given to students every other year since 2002 and the current results were taken from surveys given out in Feb. 2012. Schmitt said over 3,000 students took the survey and feels the results are accurate based on trend data.
“The interesting part with marijuana, kids are telling us you have to give them the facts, the pros and cons,” Schmitt said. “We have to learn how to educate them intellectually about the uses of marijuana and what can happen.”
Board member Peter Fischer said the district is “fooling themselves” if they don’t think heroin and cocaine are being used in the district, and the community needs to help prevent students from using such drugs.
“This notion in our society that you cannot have fun, the word partying is equal to drinking in every commercial, every TV show and every movie,” Fischer said. “In my personal experience having been in law enforcement for years, once you get on one of these drugs (the treatment programs) don’t work very often. Unlike (Alcoholics Anonymous), they don’t have a good track record so the prevention aspect becomes even more important, especially at this age.”
Schmitt said she is open to speaking with parents and students and asked those in need to “reach out to the resources you have” with the school’s student assistance program.
Hayes said the district is also looking at how stress affects their students, impacts their lives and what could be done to help them handle stress. He added most students engage in substance abuse outside of school walls and the district can only be one component of a solution.
“I think we need to have critical community conversations, open and in public,” said board president Alan Dolinko. “I think the more opportunities we have to talk about this in a structured setting the better off we’ll be.”