Drugs and the community

"What are you doing about the drug problem at Burr and Burton?" This is a question I have been asked with increasing frequency since Governor Shumlin made headlines with a speech focused on heroin and The New York Times has printed stories about our neighboring towns of Bennington and Rutland.

As an educational institution, we provide information and guidance to our students to help them make healthy and safe decisions. Through our wellness program, advisory system, assemblies, health center, sports program, and performIng arts, we offer vital information about the impact of drinking and illicit drugs on brain development, health and safety, and we actively encourage students to look out for each other. We are active supporters of the Refuse-to-Use program - we host RTU events, and many teachers serve as RTU representatives. Our athletes and performing artists must commit to remain substance free at all times that they are participating in their chosen activity. Most recently, in the past two months, we have also instituted a series of parent roundtable discussions featuring professionals in law enforcement, mental health and addiction treatment, and digital citizenship.

Regarding enforcement, in situations where we suspect a student is impaired while in school, we invoke our right to search backpacks, lockers, and vehicles. We use breathalyzers at school dances as a preventative measure, and we use breathalyzers as a diagnostic measure when we suspect someone has been drinking. The consequences for being under the influence are serious: a five-day suspension with mandatory counseling and coursework for a first offense, with possible expulsion if a second offense occurs any time in the remaining years that a student is at BBA. Every year since I have been here, we have expelled at least one student for use of illicit substances.

All that said, we also know the following:

The vast majority of use takes place outside of school. In fact, if you walk around this school on any given day, you will see students who are clear-headed and highly engaged in the life of the school. This is NOT a drug school.

Use of alcohol and drugs increases substantially once students reach 11th grade. Why? One major factor is that by 11th grade, most students are able to drive and therefore have the independence to go where the so-called action is, unsupervised by their parents.

Students are in school for roughly 31 hours out of the 168 hours in a week. The remaining 72 percent of the time, they are outside of our jurisdiction unless they are participating in extracurricular activities.

Some things you can do that have come out of our recent roundtable discussions:

Talk to your kids. Talk about situations, talk about politics, talk about sports, talk about school, and talk about how to use good judgment in challenging situations. Talk about how to be safe. Talk about your philosophy regarding drugs and alcohol, and demonstrate that drugs and alcohol are a topic worthy of discussion.

If your son or daughter is using the family car or getting in the car with a teenage driver, make sure that privilege comes with the responsibility to be substance free behind the wheel. As we know all too well, the consequences of being impaired while driving can be catastrophic.

If you consume alcohol, role model responsible use.

Talk to other parents. Our next parent roundtable discussion is coming up on April 9 at 6:30 p.m. The focus will be on parenting in the screen age, but it will give you ideas for creating dialogue with your kids on all topics - and, as previously mentioned, talking is good.

I am quite proud of this school, the quality of our faculty, the purposefulness of our students, and our connection with so many families. As a school, we cannot fight the battle against drugs and alcohol by ourselves: each family must be as serious as we are about keeping teen agers substance free.

Please do everything within your power to protect your children.

Mark Tashjian is the Headmaster of Burr and Burton Academy.


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