School substance abuse slows

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton and Henry county school systems are curbing tobacco, alcohol and drug use through intense doses of educational programs directed at both students and parents.

Tobacco, drug and alcohol use in Clayton County schools is down compared to state statistics, said Jean Gaissert, the prevention and intervention specialist for Safe and Drug-Free Schools for Clayton County. The school system conducted a survey of fifth, eighth and 10th graders on substance abuse.

She attributed the low numbers compared to statewide use to "diligently" providing information to students and parents.

Henry County schools are addressing drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse through several programs as well, Family Outreach Coordinator Anna Arnold said. The programs stress that bad behavior leads to bad consequences.

"We are implementing a lot of scientifically based programs," Arnold said.

Arnold explained that the No. 1 prevention for drug and alcohol use is parental involvement.

Teaching with Love and Logic, one Henry program, helps families and teachers work with children and students, while avoiding arguments, she said.

"It's a program that helps parents realize that kids need to make mistakes and suffer the consequences of their bad choices," Arnold said. "It's common sense, but it's unnatural. One parent said I haven't had an argument in my household since going to the class."

Education, responsibility and making the right choice are all part of avoiding substance abuse, she said.

"Yes, we are making a huge difference in helping kids learn responsibility," Arnold said. "It's all got to start there."

Gaissert said the two most important things a parent can do are to know where their children are at all times and to talk with them about drugs and alcohol.

Because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Clayton school system was able to survey students more easily and collect more accurate information on the prevalence of use in the school system, Gaissert said.

"This is the very first time that we have been able to survey so many kids," Gaissert, who has worked with Safe and Drug-Free Schools for 15 years, said.

Gaissert also pointed to Choices, a program to keep first offenders from repeating their offenses, for having lower numbers than the state.

Instead of 10 days suspension, the students can opt to attend drug and alcohol classes with a parent.

Arnold said the Henry school system uses "Mendez: Too good for drugs and violence" in eight schools this year and will implement the program in all schools next school year. The program is nationally recognized as one of the 10 best drug programs in the country, she said.

Through the first six months of this school year, Henry schools have had 66 disciplinary hearings. In those hearings, there were 13 offenses of alcohol possession, 13 offenses of drug distribution, 46 offenses of drug possession and four offenses of drug use.

"I think we're probably on the low end for drug use compared to counties around us," Arnold said.

She said the number of hearings on drug and alcohol use has been increasing, but not as fast as the school system is growing. Henry County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state.