Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Center for Disease Control has reported that nearly 3 million American teenagers have serious alcohol problems. That number is a cause for concern, but I don't like using national statistics to paint this issue because it lacks a human face.
In our community, we have students who are facing these problems and they aren't numbers. They're my peers and friends. I do not wish to point fingers but some issues need to be addressed no matter how much some may want to ignore them. As a leadership class at Sunnyside High School, we've decided to take certain actions we feel necessary and within our capacity to confront the issue.
Our class has "adopted" the class of 2015 (currently fifth graders). As reported by the Daily Sun News, we visit these students on a regular basis and lead group lessons aimed at preventing drug and alcohol use. It's sad that this program has to start in fifth grade, but as students who are not long removed from their shoes, we understand the situation at hand.
We've sat in classrooms where 10-year-old students volunteered stories of their second-hand and sometimes extensive experience with illicit drugs. With a large variety of student backgrounds, our lessons seek to focus on "the facts." I believe we are seeing early signs of results but there is another element that is just as key.
While we seek to give students scientifically-based reasons for avoiding drugs and alcohol, we need to remember that they also are our children, our siblings and our future. They need our emotional investment. We can give some youth all the health reasons in the world to not make these poor decisions, but caring adults - whether family members, school teachers or religious leaders - can make an even greater impact.
There may not be a silver bullet, but I believe that parents are the closest things to it. We need adults to take responsibility in this effort. What we are attempting is a complete culture change and failure is assured unless all are on-board.
Drawing a line always requires tough decisions, but not doing so is the greater risk. We're asking parents to take a more visible role in saying "no," even in 'contained drinking environments'. Let's not let advertisers take us for fools. We need to realize that there is no such thing as 'drinking responsibly' when it comes to high school students.
At the same time, the students themselves need to realize that even if we see little at stake personally, we have to try to look beyond ourselves. Especially among teens, no one seeks the role of the "moral police," but sometimes I wish older students were aware of the impact they have on local youth. We all have flaws, but sometimes I feel our biggest shortcoming is being unaware of the example we set for younger students, especially siblings.
We appreciate the support we've been given thus far by local teachers, the school board, Sunnyside's Promise and other important groups. And if any have been moved by these words, we're asking for your help, too.
Please support our mission and do what you can to make sure what some see as "the high school's issue" turns into a community-wide effort. The fact is, we're also students ourselves and realize, accordingly, that we don't have all the answers. We may never have them all, but we all owe it to this community to put a game plan in motion based on what we can contribute.
Jonas Linde is a senior at Sunnyside High School and a member of the SHS leadership class.