Newtown Bee Commentary By Dorrie Carolan and Donna DeLuca
A year ago a few hundred interested people gathered in the Newtown Middle School auditorium and dared to discuss drugs. It was not an esoteric or philosophical dialogue. It was a candid, direct, and disturbing commentary on the tenor of our town as it existed then – a bristling expose of the substance abuse subculture among our youth that made many of us cringe. We learned that many of our young people (more than the national average) are engaging in behaviors that are not only risky, but also lethal. We also learned that not everyone believed there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Then more young people died.
A year ago the Newtown Parent Connection was resurrected after a ten-year hiatus to awaken the Newtown community to the potential horrors of substance use and abuse and to challenge all factions of the community to take action. This was an issue that most did not want to acknowledge, let alone own, yet the monster continued to rear its ugly head. Six substance-related deaths since July 2003 are six too many. A year ago what could be heard around town was denial and blame; now we hear our government leaders, school administrators, law enforcement officials, and parents beginning to take responsibility for their respective piece of the prevention puzzle.
For example, last week a group of school and community leaders met to collaborate. Represented at this meeting were school district administrators, Newtown Youth Services’ director, The Family Counseling Center director, and the Newtown Parent Connection. The topic at hand was prevention, and the aim was establishing common boundaries for raising children who feel safe, competent, useful, and confident both at home and within the school and community at large. The tone was hopeful. It was open, productive, and focused on affecting a positive town culture in order to develop healthy children. The best part of the meeting was hearing what each of four factions has planned to help establish a single common standard. The following is a commitment to be active (and where we can, proactive) in our common mission.
The schools have revised their substance abuse and discipline policies. They plan staff training for addressing “risk and protective factors” in children on all developmental levels. Teachers will also be retrained in the Student Assistance Team process for referring children who may be struggling in any academic, emotional, or social realm. At the high school, procedures for safety and security have been implemented and will be enforced. Advisory meetings will be held on a regular basis where school policies and expectations will be discussed with students.
There has been implemented a “small town community” approach, where staff members have adopted halls to monitor student interaction. A new substance abuse counselor has been hired to work at the high school and middle school whose responsibilities will include evaluation and referral for students and their families who are found in need of substance abuse intervention. The school system has certainly taken a forthright stand on addressing the problem head-on. They are taking on an enormous task by following through with these initiatives and will be certain to affect positive change.
Newtown Youth Services will be provided programs that offer youth options for safe, social activities, and the Family Counseling Center will provide a specialized counseling services specific to the needs of the children and their families, as the newly hired substance abuse counselor will work under their auspices. Both agencies can and will provide parenting workshops as needed.
The Newtown Parent Connection remains truly committed to the mission: To educate and empower the Newtown community in the prevention of substance abuse and to embrace families in need.
Beginning on September 28, the Newtown Parent Connection will offer a series of monthly forums focused on positive parenting, truly embracing the idea that the school and community can only build on the foundations of a strong family. Nothing can compensate for a poorly functioning family system, and the Parent Connection programs are designed to highlight areas of need, provide mutual support through the sharing of experience, encourage parents to reflect on their parenting, and facilitate communication between all aspects of the community – thus building a web of support for all of our children.
It takes all of the people involved in the life of a child to give their best by taking an active role in raising him or her. We’re beginning to awaken, develop informed awareness, and do what is within our individual and collective powers of influence to change Newtown; to exemplify the many positive aspects of our community and together combat what we find intolerable.
Our personal challenge is to get involved and stay involved – with all of our children and in all aspects of their lives. If there was ever a time that “it takes a village to raise a child” it is now.
(Dorrie Carolan and Donna DeLuca are co-presidents of The Parent Connection.)
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