Before addiction takes hold of teens and derails their lives, these young adults spend the majority of their days in the classroom.
Oftentimes, schools are seen as the first or second line of defense against peer pressure, drug usage and drug addiction for students as young as five.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, all five of the area’s public school districts have strict school, district and governing board policies on tobacco, drug and alcohol use, sale and influence on school grounds, at district-sponsored event and at school-sponsored activities.
Working with a lengthy list of controlled substances provided by California’s Health and Safety Code, schools and districts state that any substance found of the list is grounds for suspension or expulsion.
Depending on the offense, students could be subject to prosecution, face disciplinary action or required to complete a substance abuse or rehabilitation program.
But before discipline and penalties come into play, students are presented with scientifically-based prevention and education programs that detail the legal and health consequences for using illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Here is a look at how each district in the Santa Clarita Valley addresses drug prevention and education in the classroom.
William S. Hart Union High School District
In the valley’s only high school district, tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse is tackled in the school’s health classes.
“Our health classes have a section where they go through the effects on the body of using drugs,” said Dave Caldwell, public relations officer for the Hart District. “Health classes are mandatory for every high school student to take and it is a requirement to graduate.”
The district also hosts events through its Parent and Student Empowerment (PASE) program. Voluntary PASE events involve both parents and students and cover everything from drug dangers and social pressures to students’ internet usage and pathways to academic success.
“Through our PASE programs we’ll periodically, throughout the year, have different presentations where the Sheriff’s Department and other organizations make presentations on what’s going on in Santa Clarita, what’s going on with teens and the pressure with drugs,” Caldwell said.
Many of the Hart District high schools and junior high schools also have Drug Free Youth In Town (DFYIT) clubs where students make a pledge to avoid alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
Students who have possession of, sell, furnish, use or are otherwise under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol will face penalties, which include suspension and expulsion.
“The Governing Board intends to keep district schools free of alcohol and other drugs,” the district’s governing board policy reads. “Every effort will be made to reduce the chances that our students will begin or continue the use of alcohol and other drugs.”
Board and district policies allow schools to complete voluntary drug testing, conduct breath analysis and allow search dogs on campus; however, many of the schools focus on prevention, skills and education instead of on-campus searches.
Castaic Union School District
In the Castaic Union School District, that has students in kindergarten to eighth grade, schools touch on drug abuse and prevention in science and P.E. classes.
“In the middle school it [drug education] is integrated in their science and P.E. classes,” Superintendent Steve Doyle said. “Predominately it is at the middle school in seventh and eighth grade.”
According to district policy, the health education teaches personal responsibility for lifelong health, promotion of the health of others, the process of growth and development and use of health-related information, products and services.
Schools in the Castaic District also celebrate Red Ribbon Week, which promotes healthy living, and Castaic Middle School participates in the DFYIT program.
Saugus Union School District
The Saugus District, which serves students in kindergarten to sixth grade, drug prevention is addressed in its involvement with the DFYIT program, partnership with the Hart District and participation in Red Ribbon Week in October.
During Red Ribbon Week, the focus is on healthy choices and includes assemblies for older students about the dangers of drugs, tobacco and alcohol.
“As an elementary district our focus is on making good choices and healthy living,” said Isa De Armas, the district’s assistant superintendent of education services. “Together with our PTAs, our schools follow the Red Ribbon Week campaign of saying ‘No’ to drugs and making a pledge to stay drug free.”
Students are also exposed to similar assemblies throughout the year that are presented by law enforcement officials.
Sixth grade students in the district also participate in the DFYIT program which organizes spring assemblies for students at Hart District high schools. Each assembly is led by high school students.
“This program has been valuable as high school students are the presenters at the assemblies and are able to directly communicate and connect with our 6th grade students,” De Armas said. “It’s been extremely powerful.”
Sulphur Springs Union School District
Sulphur Springs Union School District schools use established community and state programs as well to promote healthy choices and prevent drug, alcohol and tobacco usage among its students in kindergarten to sixth grade.
District-wide students focus on areas on tobacco use and student wellness through a program that promotes healthy eating and physical activity, according to Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi.
“This includes the use and misuse of drugs, including tobacco and alcohol… and the effects of alcohol, narcotics, drugs and tobacco upon the human body,” Kawaguchi said.
Fourth grade students participate in the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation’s STAR (Success Through Awareness and Resistance) program that educates students on the dangers of drugs, gangs and violence and reaches.
“We also have the STAR program where we work with the deputies and sheriff’s department to discuss drugs, tobacco and peer pressure,” Kawaguchi said.
In sixth grade, students also take part in the DFYIT program sponsored by the city and the TUPE (Tobacco-Use Prevention Education) program that speaks about tobacco and cigarettes.
The district’s governing board also has an extensive policy in place that is updated often, according to Kawaguchi.
Newhall School District
In the Newhall School District, sixth grade students participate in the assemblies at Hart District schools each year that address healthy choices and drug education.
Outside of the DFYIT assemblies, Superintendent Paul Cordeiro said the district does not have other drug abuse or resistance programs in place.
However, Cordeiro said he hopes the district can be part of the city of Santa Clarita’s new program for fourth, fifth and sixth grade students.
“From what I understand right now is the city’s working on a new program for grades 4, 5 and 6 so we expect to be participants in that,” Cordeiro said. “There is never a point when you stop doing stuff like this. With the legalization of marijuana there is a need to revisit those policies.”
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