Citizens tackle student use of drugs, alcohol
There's been a furor lately concerning drug and alcohol use and abuse by Baldwin City students. The subject was broached at last week's school board meeting, there was a front-page story in the Lawrence Journal-World on the issue Saturday and one concerned citizen has set up a meeting to discuss the topic next week.
But drug and alcohol use by students isn't a new "problem" in Baldwin and, despite what many believe, the subject hasn't been raised only because of the arrest of nine Baldwin High School students in Abilene during the state basketball tournament. The students, ranging in age from 16 to 18, were charged with various drug and alcohol charges which are pending.
Baldwin Supt. James White brought up the subject at last week's school board meeting, but wanted to make it clear that it wasn't a result of the arrests.
"I don't think it is at all about the arrests," White said Monday. "There's been many more (alcohol/drug incidents involving students) along the road."
In the past few years several students have been hospitalized as the result of alcohol poisoning. Several drug arrests have been made and the stories of alcohol parties being broken up at Douglas County State Fishing Lake and other locations have become commonplace.
"It certainly is not a new problem, but it has certainly hurt us in academics and athletics," said Kim Hubbel, a parent of high school and junior high aged students. "It has infiltrated the schools more than in the past and that concerns me."
That's where the school district can do something about drugs and alcohol. But it's during the off hours where school officials can't do much that's becoming most of the concern.
"It's not a school problem, it's a society problem, a community problem," said White. "Most of it takes place out of school hours. We need to come together as a community and figure out what we can do to change this.
"This is a parental issue. It's an issue that the parents have to deal with," he said. "I don't think we can stretch it to a school issue alone. As much as people would like us to be responsible for their kids 24 hours a day, we can't."
Laura McCall, a parent and district employee, has organized a meeting for March 29 at 7 p.m. in the Baldwin Junior High School library to discuss the issue. All interested parents are encouraged to attend, as well as students. It's a beginning for a dialogue to look for answers.
"I know they are not new problems, which certainly makes them no easier to solve," said Hubbel. "Maybe involving the kids in the process more and allowing them to help us help them will work. What do they think the problem is and what do they think can be done?
"We need to ask them and then listen to what they say really listen," she said. "Maybe they are trying to tell us and we just aren't hearing."
The Baldwin City Council also discussed the issue at Monday's meeting and the city's public safety committee will meet with Supt. White to discuss the situation.
Kit Harris, a teacher and coach at Baldwin High who grew up in Baldwin and is a BHS graduate, also has a perspective on what is wrong and needs to be done.
"I think where we run into trouble is when adults begin to accept, tolerate and/or condone this kind of activity with an 'oh well, it's just kids having fun' mentality," said Harris. "Sure, we want our kids to have fun, but we should promote law-abiding and non-mind altering fun. And, yes, it can be our responsibility to try and find things for kids to do, etc., but responsibility must also be placed on the kids to make heads-up decisions in their lives."
Harris cautions that drugs and alcohol aren't "rampant" at the high school. But, there are definite factions within the school.
"On one side, I think there are probably a hand full of kids who will do whatever they want regardless of what anyone says or does. On the flip side, there are probably a hand full of kids who will not break laws as they have pretty level heads," he said. "However, I believe there is a very large group of kids in the middle of that continuum who can and will go either way.
"Two factors are of the utmost importance here: peer pressure and role models. I don't believe there is much outward verbal peer pressure, but instead kids put pressure on themselves to 'fit in.' And as kids make their decisions, the influence of role models is crucial parents, coaches, teachers, their favorite musicians or athletes, etc. Role models come in many different forms and kids, who can be very impressionable, will usually follow their lead," he said.
Harris and the others agree that now is the time to address the issue and find solutions. It's all about community, they say.
"There can be a snowball effect take place and as long as I am a part of this community I will continuously do what I can to make it better," said Harris. "I, like all parents, want to raise my family in a good community, which I feel Baldwin is. And I think the less broken laws that occur here, the better community we will have for ourselves."