There’s no question that Granville students are up against a few serious issues. And there’s no question that there are plenty of resources out there to help them.
It’s just a matter of connecting them all together.
Last Thursday night, an 11-member board consisting of law enforcement, school and elected officials, parents, clergy and students, as well as several dozen community members, participated in a forum on social issues facing area children. The talk was as an opportunity to ask questions, discuss and offer suggestions for problems that were identified in the results of a 2011 student survey.
The dialog centered on alcohol, drugs, bullying and depression.
District Superintendent Mark Bessen opened up the meeting by presenting some sobering statistics: 8.8 percent of Granville students claim to have attempted suicide, for example, while 17.8 percent report having been a passenger in a car with a driver who had been drinking.
“Granville’s not alone in these numbers. But it’s an epidemic in America we have to face. These numbers bother us. Significantly bother us,” Bessen said.
But what most shocked many of the adults present was that only 17 percent of students thought there would be consequences if caught with alcohol or drugs.
“To someone in my business, the results of the survey are nothing surprising,” said Mike Gray, director of Washington County Youth Bureau. “The one thing that really surprised me was the majority of kids thought if they were caught with drinks or marijuana, only 17 percent thought they’d be in trouble. The parents are disconnected for a variety of reasons.”
Many other officials present, from Captain Bryn Reynolds of the Washington County Sheriffs to School Board Member Suzanne McEachron, repeated their disbelief.
“It’s amazing to see from the survey that they don’t think there’s consequence. There certainly is consequence from a law enforcement perspective. Even passing a bowl is considered a criminal sale,” Reynolds said.
McEachron confirmed the students’ perception.
“It always shocks me the number of parents who by the time their kids hit high school there seems to be a prevalence of ‘Well, kids are kids, and they’re gonna do it, so let’s turn a blind eye,’” she said.
That attitude and seemingly lack of involvement coming from many parents was another topic of discussion.
Though more parents did show up than at previous open-discussion school board meetings, there was still a glaring lack of participants who were not also school or local officials.
District Secretary Connie Resetar asked Katherine Chambers, youth court director for the Council for Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, which put out the survey, if the agency had also considered surveying parents.
Chambers said that would be easier said than done.
“Look around you—it shows how people feel,” she said, referring to the many empty seats in the auditorium.
“What we did see this year is the majority of students report parents wouldn’t know where they are if they’re not at home. And they’re getting mixed messages at home with substances,” she said.
“This is a sad showing. We have difficulty in a society where everything is okay. Nothing is a problem until it’s a problem,” said Mike Minnie, a school bus driver, parent and former pastor. “It’s a difficult task, because we live in a broken society. We need to reach out to the community and get them here to talk.”
In introducing themselves, the various forum members explained what services their respective organizations can offer students.
Rev. Jerry McKinney said the Mettowee Valley Ecumenical Society provides food to those in need, while the church is a resource that’s always there for support.
Heather Weeden, a parent, expressed concern at the 61 percent of students who feel they’re being bullied. School Counselor Denise Frandino and School Social Worker Jennifer Powell described district resources. Frandino piggybacked off of Bessen’s opening comments, explaining that it’s important to teach the students coping and resiliency.
Both Powell and Chambers pointed out that it’s easier to start changing younger students than older ones.
“It’s the younger students you’ll be able to tap into and mold. When we see youth telling youth and peers telling peers it’s not cool, that makes a difference. If we change the perception, we change the behavior,” Chambers said.
Tim Carroll, a sheriff, pointed out the importance of community spirit and sports in tackling the issues.
“I think the key for this whole thing is for us to be available. Sports games and things like that bring people together in the community. We need to build a sense of community,” he said.
As the meeting came to a close, various attendees voiced their willingness to meet again and do what they can to ameliorate the problems.
“If you want a next step forward, it’s going to be you guys who push it in that direction,” Chambers said. Gray offered to take down contact information and organize a collaborative group through his office.
A number of those present expressed that it is important for more parents to become involved with the effort. On Friday, Bessen said the forum was a demonstration of the community working together.
“It’s an opportunity for people to learn about what’s going on in the schools and to participate in that dialog,” he said. “We have all the organizations that are willing to help—we just need one more partner, and that’s the parents.”
The next school board forum, focusing on new state Common Core standards, will take place on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the high school auditorium.