What is the biggest challenge to fighting drug abuse in Keller schools?Parents who are ignorant of the dangers or are in denial, according to Marcene Weatherall, coordinator of drug and alcohol prevention services.“We believe because we live in a certain place we think our kids don’t have access to drugs, but there are drug trends in all the feeder patterns,” Weatherall said.As part of Red Ribbon drug abuse prevention activities in October, Weatherall spoke at numerous parent meetings throughout the Keller district. On Oct. 30, she gave a presentation at Florence Elementary School.In the last few years, the prescription drug Xanax has superseded marijuana as the No. 1 drug of choice. The reason? It can be found in many home medicine cabinets.“Xanax is easier to get than pot right now, and it’s a huge problem in Keller,” Weatherall said.The key to keeping kids from abusing drugs is to increase their perception of harm. Parents need to talk about the dangers of popular inhalants, over-the-counter and prescription medications and illegal substances, and those conversations need to start in elementary school.Weatherall told parents that the average first-time use of marijuana is at 9 years old and for the drug Ecstasy, or MDMA, at 11.“Communication has to begin before that age,” she said. “We can’t wait until the secondary level like we used to.”If parents don’t talk about drug abuse, children learn from peers and the information they get is often wrong.Florence counselor Angelina Bowen said she asked fourth-graders if they thought they would be offered drugs by someone they knew or someone they didn’t know. Most of them thought it would be someone they didn’t know. Research shows it is typically offered by a peer.Weatherall said parents warn their kids about the dangers of taking something from a stranger but don’t mention how to deal with pressure from friends and in social situations.She suggested that parents role play with their children and give them reasons to say “no.” Enrolling them in the KISD random voluntary student drug testing program gives kids a reason to decline something. The program is available on all secondary campuses. The independent testing company, Pinnacle Labs, visits the schools four times a year on an unannounced schedule and takes students from the testing pool at random.She also said that parents need to be diligent in looking for signs of drug usage, and they need to let their kids know they are watching.Parents said they found the information helpful and startling.Keller mom Courtney Pinch said, “I came today just to be aware. I’m surprised at the stuff my third-grader knows.”Belen Chee, also of Keller, said she hoped more parents would make the effort to learn about drug abuse prevention, especially with the changes in the world.“I think even the best of kids can make poor choices, so it’s important to understand and know everything we can,” Chee said.Weatherall said that parents who communicate about the genuine dangers of drugs have the best chance of keeping their kids drug-free. With all the information on the Internet, blanket scare tactics from the past don’t work. That’s why it’s important for adults to have accurate reasons. “If we don’t identify the red flags as adults, we can’t be of service to our kids,” she said.For more information on drug and alcohol abuse prevention, go to kellerisd.net, then to the “Students and Families” section, click on “Need to Know” and look for “ Drug awareness program or contact Weatherall at 817-744-1041.
Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231 Twitter: @SandraEngelland