Encouraging Healthy Choices
The presence of drugs or “remedies” can be traced throughout generations of humankind and across countless cultures. The pursuit of relief or “escape” via drug use was, is and will continue to be something which defines how some elect to live their lives while others struggle with their dependence. Regardless, the toll on the individual, their circle of family and friends, and society in general is real, obvious and merits a collective effort to eradicate illegal and unhealthy use. (Note: Although there exists philosophical positions tied to the value of prescribed medicine, this “why paper” is not intended to question or challenge the value of the medical community nor the utility of prescribed medicine.)
Newsworthy, but not news… the percentage of adults and young people who are struggling with their own mental health is up. According to Mental Health America (MHA), the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans, one in five adults have a mental condition and the percentage of young who deal with severe depression increased from 5.9 to 8.2% from 2012 to 2015. Despite more folks having access to some degree of mental health care, the larger numbers outpace the amount of support available. A seemingly natural response for those who struggle… self-medication.
The “why” behind these numbers is a concern. Among the explanations provided: the economic and financial pressures of 2008, the rapid evolution of technology, informational overload, the deterioration of a clear societal moral compass often associated with the influence of religion, a fundamental shift in the approach to parenting, the breakdown in the family, and certain flaws within the educational/socialization system to mention a few.
Certainly, we do recognize drug use/abuse goes beyond those who do so in order to deal with the above-mentioned struggle and we must not ignore those who do so for social or a “recreational” purpose. It is clear one’s “circle of friends” can have influence on the choices made. It would be foolish to believe those involved in organized or team activity are exempt. In the 10.14.17 issue of our BHS “why papers” we discussed the value of “activity participation” and the role it plays in contributing in positive ways to school attendance, school performance and avoidance of risky behaviors. As such, we find compelling reasons to do all we can to connect students to one another and healthy activity. However, we must also acknowledge there is research which references some added vulnerability to participate in less healthy social behavior as a result of some of these connections.
Neither of the above-described scenarios discriminates as to who is impacted. It is no secret the participation in drug use does cross-gender, ethnic, intellectual capacity and socio-economic lines. So, the challenge is clear. What do we do? Our “moment in time” is now and the impact of drug use/abuse continues to be real and obvious. In Belton, our collective effort to eradicate illegal and unhealthy use is both intentional and strategic. We recognize any effort to eradicate will fall short, but we sincerely do hope and pray that our efforts remind our students and public of our love for and our intent to do right by the young people of Belton.
Strategically, we are intentional about building our “relational capacity.” Students and community members who understand our care for the young people is genuine grow to trust the motive when it comes to promoting healthy choices. Through daily conversations and a visible presence at school, school activities and any place where Belton students are involved, we seek to build relationships.
So, how do we approach the concern as a community?
It is important to note, there are scheduled times when our focus is to send a clear message to our community as well as identify and deliver direct support to those involved. These include our random drug testing program (eight times per year), random drug dog searches (twice a year), the Signs of Suicide (SOS) activity held in November, or the scheduled conversations we share with respective classes which are often attached to key events such as Homecoming, Prom or the final weeks for our Seniors.
The Belton School District’s random drug testing program is in the second year. As was mentioned, eight times per school year twenty-five randomly selected students from both BHS and BMSFC are tested for select drugs. An additional two students from each school are also tested for steroid use as well. Roughly two-thirds of the student population represents the “pool” from which students are chosen. All student-athletes, those who participate in various activities and purchase a parking pass must be in the pool. There are others who, as a result of parental request, are also included. Results are known rather quickly and communicated with the household. In those cases where results indicate use, additional attention is given and resources are provided. (As a point of information… Of the 350 students tested over the past two years, 7.14% of them produced a positive test for an illegal substance. In other words, 92.86% of those tested showed no signs of illegal substance use. With regard to the thirty-two tested for steroids, there have been no positive tests.)
There are also those times which do not involve a scheduled visit at all. These represent those situations where a student has either referred themselves or a friend. On occasion, parents or a staff member shares a concern and the conversation between adult (counselor/Pathways school-based therapist/administrator/coach/sponsor) and student lends itself to frank discussions about the choices made and/or the trappings of curiosity, peer pressure, stresses at home or life itself. It is not uncommon for the initial topic to have centered on academic performance or the lack thereof, but interwoven is dialogue about healthy choices.
Regardless of the circumstance which brings two together, it is through honest and transparent conversation one is able to demonstrate a commitment to our students. We remain convinced that through relationship, we create our greatest opportunity to influence our young people. One is hard-pressed to find someone who reports their own high school experience was void of the same challenges we face today. But, people are worth it and therefore, the effort is worth it as well.