Wednesday, October 05, 2005 | After the release of the results of the California Healthy Kids Survey, which was administered last April to all Torrey Pines High School students, the district is working to create new programs to reduce student involvement with drugs and alcohol.
“Results of the survey supported what we thought was the case. The data itself is very shocking. Do we have an answer to the problem? No, but every site is addressing problems,” assistant superintendent Penny Cooper-Francisco said.
Among juniors, 68 percent have used alcohol in their life, while 52 percent of freshmen have used alcohol. Lifetime marijuana use is 37 percent among juniors and 16 percent of freshmen.
“We know how high school is, but some percentages were a little alarming – the binge drinking and the number of students who have driven in a car with someone under the influence. It’s a big concern, and we want everyone to be aware,” Assistant Principal Rick Ayala said.
Thirty-seven percent of juniors have driven or ridden in a car driven by a friend who had been drinking; 24 percent of freshmen have done the same.
In direct response to the survey, the administration is organizing a new program. If a student is caught using alcohol or drugs while on campus or during a school event, they may eradicate the suspension in place of attending the three-day intensive program. While attending the sessions, students must also keep up with the schoolwork they have missed.
“For the first time the district has admitted in the Healthy Kids Survey that we have a problem, and we’re not going to hide anything. This came out of the Healthy Kids Survey because for the first time results were put out there,” Principal Rick Schmitt said.
Scheduled to begin today, the program will run every Tuesday to Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., in a classroom at the San Dieguito Academy. Students may attend any of the days, so long as they are in succession.
The program will offer educational services regarding the abuse of alcohol and drugs and will be headed by district substance abuse counselor Joe Olesky.
“Hopefully [students] can gain a lot of insight and personal growth. We will discuss drugs, health ramifications … decision-making, consequences, recovery, relationships and abstinence. The goal is that they feel really connected … [and] that they know we’re here for them unconditionally,” Olesky said.
Though the program is only scheduled for group classes, the district hopes to eventually extend it to individual counseling and a general education course for parents.
In addition to attending the three-day course, students must attend five Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, complete 10 hours of community service and fill out a package that summarizes their experience with the recovery program. Over the following two to three months, students will attend specialized groups offered by counselors.
“It’s not supposed to be a punishment; it’s supposed to be a learning process,” district coordinator of pupil services Steve Levy said.
The CHKS is a comprehensive system that collects data from schools nationwide regarding students’ involvement with drugs and alcohol, as well as their participation and happiness at school.
TPHS distributed the mandatory section of the survey regarding drug and alcohol use, violence, discrimination and mental and physical health. The second addition to the survey questioned students’ connection to the school in order to make a connection between school involvement and use of drugs or alcohol.
The CHKS is administered statewide and is a necessary measure for any state school that accepts federal funding.
Despite the daunting results of alcohol use, the percentage of students who lack feelings of school connectedness were low and a point of recognition for the administration.
“I felt best about the fact that students feel safe and recognize that some faculty or employee had told them they were proud of them,” Schmitt said.
Twenty-one percent of juniors are not happy to be at school, 26 percent do not feel part of their school and 8 percent say they do not feel someone at school tells them when they do a good job.
Having reviewed the results thoroughly, the district is working to interpret the data and create a solution.
“It takes a lot of guts to call out a community; it’s much easier just to put this under the seat. But part of our job is not only to educate but to make a profound difference,” Levy said.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Heidi Redlitz, a senior at Torrey Pines High School in Carmel Valley. It first appeared in the September 2005 edition of The Falconer, the TPHS student newspaper, and is reprinted by permission. Voice of San Diego welcomes other student-written articles. Please contact Glenn Rabinowitz, Voice Editor in Chief, at