Pot. Alcohol. High. Stoned. Do these words ring a bell? What do you see, what do you feel, when confronted so brazenly with these terms? Perhaps you see the kid who sits next to you in sixth period always reeking of weed. Perhaps you hear lectures and horror stories from teachers and parents about the dangers of drugs, complete with pictures of people with faces mutilated by meth, or news of some teen who died because his liver gave out, and was found in a pool of vomit on the bathroom floor. Perhaps you feel a pang of offense, or guilt, or rage, as you hear your own habits reflected in these words.
The prevalence of drugs and alcohol on campus can be seen in the number of drug related suspensions there have been in relation to the number of suspensions overall. 29 out of 41 suspensions this year have been drug related—almost three quarters—and this hasn’t even been a significantly high year for drug use, either. During the 2009-10 school year, 51 out of 64 suspensions were drug related. With figures like these, the presence of a prominent drug culture at SLV is beyond doubt.
Many on campus have strong and diverse opinions about the drug issue. “Drugs are just something that people do, and the school should just get out of the way,” one student says; he or she will remain anonymous for obvious reasons. On the opposite side of the spectrum, another student delivered his or her, let’s say, enthused memoir about people who do drugs: “Every day someone walks into class higher than Mt. Everest and Mt. McKinley combined . . . if you’re going to do drugs, school is not the place. I don’t want to smell your weed.” There are a variety of opinions not only about individual responsibility concerning drugs, but about the school’s enforcement of drug rules as well. “The school can only do so much,” one student comments. “They can’t take a kid outside and start patting him down. There should be rules, but the school can’t go into people’s personal lives.”
School faculty and staff are doing what they can to be just and appropriate enforcers of drug regulations. “Student learning and safety are our top priorities,” principal Karen van Putten says. “The teaching staff and administration have the responsibility of providing the best education in a safe learning environment . . . That’s why we take every report of a student being under the influence during school hours very seriously. That’s why we have a 9th grade Health curriculum that educates students about the potential dangers of drug and alcohol consumption. . . We intervene when our students are in unsafe situations or create a negative learning environment.”
Every day someone walks into class higher than Mt. Everest and Mt. McKinley combined . . . if you’re going to do drugs, school is not the place. I don’t want to smell your weed.
There seems to be little disagreement about the most prevalent drugs used at SLV, however. Marijuana and alcohol seem to hold first place by far. One student says, in regard to the most popular drug at the high school, “Probably weed. There are people who smoke weed every day, even multiple times a day.” Another says, “Alcohol, because those who smoke weed usually do alcohol as well.” These opinions seem to resonate through the school as a whole. Hardly a single person will say that there is a drug more commonly used at SLV than marijuana or alcohol. Why is this? There could be several reasons:
For one, marijuana and alcohol are both very accessible in our neighborhood. Pot, bordering on legalization, is not as strictly enforced as many other drugs, and therefore people making transactions involving pot would not feel the need to be as secretive as they would in other cases. Alcohol is commonly found in households and in the hands of adults who maybe do not feel as adamant as they should about keeping such substances away from youth.
The popularity of marijuana and alcohol could have also resulted from the fact that, simply, such drugs produce the effects students want. Drugs are a form of escapism, a tool for creating momentary bliss; and there just might be enough bliss packed into a joint and a bottle of beer to satisfy their users. Of course, weed’s role as a gateway drug also plays a factor, but taking a broad view of weed’s consistent prevalence, it is clear that users must be happy with its effects. These are only a couple of the possible reasons for the popularity of these two drugs. Whatever the cause, however, it is beyond debate that marijuana and alcohol are the two most pervasive drugs at SLV.
About a year ago, a dangerous trend involving alcohol emerged among bay area schools: the High School Blackout on Instagram, of which SLV was very much a part. This notorious poster encouraged teens to send pictures of themselves and their friends drinking or suffering in various ways from excessive liquor. What humor participants found in such an activity, I cannot precisely say; nor can many other high school students, who, allegedly, would “never even think twice about participating in that.” One student says, “I think it’s a really stupid thing to do. If people posted pictures of me I would be pissed. If I did that kind of stuff, I wouldn’t want evidence of it on the internet.”
The High School Blackout thread was, eventually, taken off the internet, but victims of their friends’ ill humor continue to feel the effects of it to this day as they are shamed by the damage they did to themselves that fateful night of the party. And the posters felt the repercussions as well, no doubt: the looks of “why” in their friends’ faces, the gnawing regret of engaging in such habits, of putting their friends in such a terrible light, of feeding a monster that never should have been born in the first place. But maybe High School Blackout wasn’t such a bad thing, overall. Maybe it awakened those who participated to the dangers of alcohol, to the ruin that drugs can bring about. Maybe it helped inspire a change, to some minimal degree.
Drugs are one of the most controversial issues in schools, surpassed by little else in terms of partitions of opinion, in terms of contentious connotation in their every mention. To some high school students, drugs are a pastime, one that must be hidden; to others, a disease to be cured, infecting only the lowest, only the untouchable; often, they are treated as a massive joke, a reality which in cognition are an issue, but in perception are so distant, so unseen, that they may as well be fiction. The truth is, however, that drugs are not a joke. They are a real issue, a very tangible one that comes in beer bottles and joints, one that must be taken seriously if something is to change. And though drugs may not be a player in your life, they are most definitely present in the lives of others, of people you see every day.
If you, personally, are in a situation involving drugs or alcohol, there are people here at school who can help you. A message from Ms. van Putten: “Students have many supports at SLVHS. They can request a meeting with their grade-level counselors, Healthy Lifestyles’ counselor, Jeff Ebbage, and Ms. Billings or Ms. van Putten. Students sometimes misunderstand the role of counselors and the principals, fearing that we will judge and discipline, but we are here to listen and provide assistance.”
– Jesse McMilin