An 'imperative conversation'
by former LRHSD Superintendent Emily Capella
 
In addition to illegal drug use, children and teens continue to abuse alcohol. The national average for the first use of alcohol is 14 years old. The debilitating fallout from drug and alcohol abuse among children affects families, schools and communities of every socioeconomic and demographic profile in rural, suburban and urban areas. The eight sending communities in the Lenape Regional High School District are not immune.

The national statistics reflect the findings in the Lenape Regional High School District’s most recent Violence and Vandalism Report, which also shows an increase in drug and alcohol use, possession and distribution. 

Risky and dangerous behaviors among youth in Burlington County, including illegal drug possession, distribution and use, underage drinking, and driving while intoxicated has been steadily on the rise since 2007.  Particularly troubling is the fact that the average age for the first use of alcohol in Burlington County is 10.8 years old, significantly below the state average of 12.5 years and the national average of 14 years. The average age of onset for the county’s students using marijuana is 12.8 years old.  Early marijuana use may become a gateway to addictive substances.

Students who engage in these risky behaviors may not show immediate or obvious signs of drug or alcohol abuse.  They may attend school regularly, do their homework, participate in extracurricular activities and maintain busy social lives. They appear to be average, happy, healthy teenagers, with one exception: they are using and abusing drugs and alcohol. And, at some point, the odds are the choices they are making will affect their interest in school, their academic achievement, social life, and most important, their health and well-being.

Given these stark realities, everyone in the Lenape District has a real sense of urgency to work with parents and the community to find effective approaches to combat substance abuse by some of our children.  Reaching and implementing those approaches will first require courage to address this issue honestly, without pointing fingers or laying blame.  It must begin with an informed and intelligent dialogue about the issue, which will lead to actions that take us a step closer to finding a solution.
 
Integral to the Lenape District’s mission is our pledge to form partnerships with families and the community to provide our students with a safe, challenging and energizing environment.  This school year, law enforcement officers from Medford and Evesham townships, as well as the New Jersey State Police, addressed our staff on opening day about their experiences in dealing with substance abuse and trends within their communities. 

Each principal and district administrator has made a commitment to engage parents in what we consider an imperative conversation about substance abuse.

Our efforts were highlighted during the week of Oct. 18, 2010 through a wide range of activities at all of our high schools. The programs were designed to educate and engage students to promote safe and healthy lifestyle choices no matter where they are: in school and at extracurricular activities, while driving and at home.

Visit www.DefyTheIssue.org for details about activities for students as well as parents and community members, and perhaps make time in your schedule to join us for a presentation and discussion.

We are appealing to parents and community members to join us…because our efforts will not be effective without your support.  As your children enter middle and high school, stay involved in their lives.  We know that may not always be easy, but the Lenape District website includes many resources that may help.  Among them are tips on how parents and community members can walk that fine line of maintaining open communication with children while giving them the freedom they need to make their own safe and intelligent decisions.

As a community, we can all work together to be sure every child receives the support and freedom he or she needs to lead healthy, happy and productive lives in high school and beyond.

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