Arlington County teenagers caught using drugs or alcohol have a new program designed to avoid school suspension or the juvenile justice system. Called Second Chance, the program offers a three-day early intervention program for first-time offenders.
“I think it really encourages families, kids, staff, the police and local authorities to work together and to find these kids early and get them the help they need,” Linda Erdos, Assistant Superintendent, School and Community Relations told Patch on Wednesday. “So that it’s really not a court date, it really is a counseling date. Getting it early and involving the families so that we can hopefully build a better understanding of what’s going on and what needs to be done with kids.”
The substance abuse education program, announced Wednesday, will begin in September and educate participants about the detriment these substances can have on their bodies, relationships and goals.
Kip Laramie, a member of Partnerships for a Healthier Arlington and the owner of Rosslyn’s Santa Fe Café, said Arlington’s binge drinking average is higher than the national average, and that the entire community has come together to help Arlington’s youth.
“Hopefully, [the program] will just make people aware, aware on many different levels,” Laramie told Patch. “If there is a student having problems but is really not fully blossomed, it will give the parents a chance to make it right and stand up for their children. Certainly the county is going to try to do that, but the county can only do so much. I think the awareness factor for the parents and their component as being involved in it is very important, and I think it’s great that the county is acknowledging the issue.”
In Fairfax County, school officials have spent months reviewing its disciplinary procedures after the suicide of a 15-year-old who was subject to the system's policy of transferring students to new schools when they get into trouble. Some groups say the changes leave a policy that still keep parents out of the loop when schools take action.
Second Chance is aimed at Arlington middle and high school students, and it is anticipated that 200 kids will kick off the program in the fall. Referrals to the program can come from parents, the school and the police. There is also a mandatory component for parents to complete with the kids, to bring the counseling full-circle.
According to the 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, 76 percent of Arlington teens will have tried alcohol at one time before graduating high school and almost half of them will have used marijuana.
“I have five children and raised them in this community and I was on the school board for many years, so I am quite aware of how available alcohol and those sort of ‘entry-level’ drugs are in our community of young people,” Mary Hynes, County Board Vice-Chair, told Patch. “We started this survey work of young people when I was on the school board so I’ve been watching these numbers, and when this binge drinking number came out several years ago, both the school board and the county board were very concerned. There are way too many young people using these substances.”
The Arlington County Board appropriated $130,000 for the two-year pilot program and additional funding came from the Century Council, who contributed $50,000 and Arlington’s READY Coalition contributed $20,000 for the evaluation component of the program.
“What struck me about it is how unique it is, it really just is common sense. This is what we should have been doing a while ago and I’m sorry it took this long, but I’m glad we’re there,” Arlington School Board Chair Libby Garvey told Patch. “I am particularly pleased that we have the evaluation component, because then we can maybe take it to scale so that what we’re doing here can be helpful to others.”
Teens who use these substances are much more likely to have poor grades, unplanned and unprotected sex, accidents resulting in serious injury or death, and other high-risk behavior. Second Chance is designed to recognize these kids as early as possible and get them the help they need.
“We just really encourage parents to take a hard look and if they’re concerned, there is no consequence to a parent who self refers a child,” Hynes said. “If you are really worried that your child might be using, this is a good way to get ahead of the curve and open up some communication between you and your child.”
To learn more about the program, click here.