2012-03-15 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

School district’s open approach critical in drug prevention efforts
Carol Somers — Staff Writer

Last Thursday, I attended a community forum at Swan Valley Middle School, during which the school district’s Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth survey results were presented. Every two years, the MiPHY polls seventh, eleventh and ninth graders about health risk behaviors including substance abuse, violence, physical activity, nutrition, sexual activity, and emotional health.

The next day, I heard another media outlet’s coverage of the event, and the report led with the most dramatic finding: 7.5 percent of the district’s seventh graders responded that within the last 30 days they had used cocaine, and 11.8 percent had taken painkillers such as Oxycontin, Codeine, Percocet or Tylenol III without a doctor’s prescription.

And, no question, that’s an important piece of news. Those numbers are alarming, and they should serve as a harsh wake-up call for anyone who thinks that young people from tightknit, middle class communities are insulated from the plague of drug abuse and addiction.

But I think it’s just as important to report on the open and honest way that district administrators shared the results with the public, and how school and community groups are pro-actively partnering to decrease those very disturbing percentage points.

The MiPHY survey was developed by the Michigan Department of Education in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Community Health, but school districts are not mandated to take part.

Swan Valley Middle School Principal Craig Blower said the district does so because it wants to make sure its K-12 health curriculum is effectively addressing student health risk behaviors. School leaders take the results seriously.

If student responses indicate an upswing in certain activities, the district will retool curriculum and special prevention programs to hone in on the most critical concerns. School clubs like Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) and Students Taking a New Direction (S.T.A.N.D.) are empowering students to take an active role in the fight for a drugfree community, and the district works closely with the Swan Valley Community Support Network to engage community members in the challenge.

Schools that participate in the MiPHY are not required to share the survey results with the community, so it would be very easy for administrators to tuck away the data and save it for a staff-only school improvement meeting.

With Michigan schools under constant scrutiny from legislators, the media, parents and policy makers, it would be understandable if a district shied away from making these numbers public.

Instead, Swan Valley held a public event that not only presented the results, but outlined the ways families and schools can work together keep teens from engaging in risky behavior.

Guest speaker Lori Piotraczk told parents that she never thought drug addiction would touch her family. The Piotraczks are the family next door: educated, involved parents who attended every football game and school music program.

With her warm smile and easy laugh, Lori is the kind of mom you hope you work with when you sign up for a shift at the soccer game concession stand. She’s the one you trust to drive your daughter home from school when you’re running late.

Before drugs invaded her sons’ lives, they were on a path we hope our own children will walk. Lori’s older son was a student at the University of Michigan and his brother was being scouted by Big Ten football teams when he was just a sophomore.

The room was riveted as Lori described finding hypodermic needles stashed in the ceiling of her son’s car, but her proud mom moments were just as compelling. Hearing her talk about tee-ball games and parent-teacher conferences made her family’s present-day struggles all the more heartbreaking.

Lori Piotraczk’s stories were a tragic reminder that drug addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. No community or family is immune. Kudos to Swan Valley District Schools for acknowledging that unfortunate reality, and not taking a “that doesn’t happen here” approach to a sensitive and serious issue.

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