Symposium will bring together experts on teens

Douglas High School administrators don't know if students are actually doing more drugs these days, but they do fear that, if so inclined, students can find more drugs to do.

"It used to be about alcohol," said Assistant Principal Tom Morgan. "It has evolved into meth, heroin and marijuana. The variety of what kids have access to in this little Valley is bigger, and it touches the schools and has an impact on them."

Morgan is one of several administrators, teachers and counselors who have been at the front lines in a battle for the youth of Douglas County.

"We are seriously considering closing campus for lunch," Morgan said. "We want to make sure the kids don't have the temptations they have now when they leave campus."

Those temptations seem to be reaching across the social spectrum, breaking down barriers and infiltrating all cliques and social groups.

"A student said to me the other day that it used to be certain pockets of kids," Morgan said. "But not anymore. It's across every demographic."

In December, one student was arrested and three others investigated after school officials uncovered an Ecstasy sales ring. Two weeks later, three basketball players were suspended for smoking marijuana.

In the summer of 2007, a Douglas High junior fell into a coma and suffered major damage after smoking black tar heroin.

"I don't really know what kind of drug use is going on," Morgan said. "I can't say there is more, but the variety is greater and more significant."

In a battle where minds are quickly won or lost, school officials are employing their newest weapon: a parent symposium 5:30-7:30 p.m. March 11 at the high school.

"We have done different versions of this, but have not had these topics with this many resources," said Douglas High Principal Marty Swisher. "It's important parents and schools work together. The symposium is about getting information out, making sure parents understand and keep a careful eye on all kids in community."

The event will offer informational sessions on four topics: drug awareness, suicide prevention, healthy relationships and Internet safety. Parents may choose two of the four topics to attend. On hand will be representatives from a variety of community agencies, including the Partnership of Community Resources and Tahoe Youth and Family Services.

"It is critical that parents stay up to date with what is happening in the world of our youth," said Superintendent Carol Lark. "When I attend expulsion hearings I am amazed at what I don't know when it comes to the drug culture. As a parent, I would want to know what to look for in terms of behavior and behavior changes.

"We have included several community agencies to participate with us because we are all here to meet the needs of our students. When we work together as one community everyone will benefit."

Drug use is one of many issues school officials hope to address. Another is the grim reality of teen suicide.

"We have had two suicides this year," Swisher said. "We are always concerned about the mental and physical welfare of our students."

Counselor Jodi Wass, Pete Nelson and Mickey Garcia will be speaking at the symposium about suicide prevention and awareness, offering signs, symptoms and resources.

Jamie Wise and Mindy Borchers of the Family Support Council will be discussing healthy relationships and will offer parenting tips, including how to talk to children, red flags to look for, and how to face and resolve conflicts.

Morgan said parents should not overlook behavioral changes in their children.

"A sudden change in grades and a significant change in friends warrants investigation," he said.

Swisher said many times students themselves are the ones that come forward.

"It's a compliment to the students that a lot of things this year have been brought forward by students, by a concern for friends," Swisher said.

Another problem the symposium will highlight is a rise in the use of electronic media for threats and intimidation.

In 2007, Douglas High School was locked down for an hour after staff received an e-mail threatening a school shooting. Authorities later cleared the school, but the problem persisted. In February of 2008, a 16-year-old student was arrested after threatening comments were discovered on his MySpace page. As recently as December, a violent text message set off a storm of cell phone texting among students that in turn prompted an increase in security at the high school.

"We're seeing an escalation in the use of the Internet and messaging," Swisher said. "Parents need to monitor the use of technology. We all have different levels of privacy, but we still need to make sure our children are not involved in something that hurts them."

Morgan said instantaneous communication disrupts the decision-making process.

"Not a lot of reflection occurs when you have instant communication," he said. "If students had more wait or think time, they might make better decisions."

Attending the symposium will be FBI Special Agent Anna Brewer, along with Michelle Sahagun and Autumn Foster of Children's Cabinet, who will be discussing Internet safety.

At a policy level, the school district has responded to the electronic threat. Last summer, the school board approved a policy change to prohibit "conduct off school property that materially and substantially disrupts school operations," including threatening e-mails, text messages and MySpace comments.

"When the use of these electronic means of communication disrupts school operations, we need to have the means to intervene," Lark said.

But school officials can only do so much. They hope the symposium will serve as a call to action for parents.

"As parents, and as a community, we must realize that all of these issues are real, and they have the ability to impact any family or individual," Pau-Wa-Lu Principal Keith Lewis wrote in a newsletter to parents. "As parents, we challenge you to increase your awareness of the challenges your teenagers face. By increasing your own awareness, you will be better equipped to provide your child the support they will need to make healthy decisions."


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