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Early Start : Schools Step Up Anti-Drug Efforts Beginning in Lower Grades, Continuing Into High School

August 31, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

At Banning High School, about 450 male and female athletes will be asked to take voluntary drug tests to prove to their peers that they are, in the words of Principal Estele Pena, "as clean as they claim to be."

In the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, a drug education specialist has been hired to bring together a wide variety of community and school programs to form what one administrator calls a united front against drugs.

In Lawndale, the schools have entered into a coalition with the city and the Sheriff's Department to provide a comprehensive program of drug education for elementary students. The city will contribute $50,000 to the effort.

In Torrance, a city police officer has been assigned full time to the school beat, and several other districts plan to ask law-enforcement agencies to help them get across the anti-drug message at their schools.

Stronger Programs

Most districts in the South Bay say they are looking for ways to strengthen their drug education programs, and school administrators generally are vowing to tighten enforcement of laws against the use, sale and possession of drugs on their campuses.

These and other programs awaiting students in the new school year are still far short of the efforts needed to carry out what many see as a growing public mandate to get serious about the drug crisis, school officials concede.

"But it's a beginning," said Jack Bagdasar, president of the Peninsula school board. "It won't be easy to turn this thing around, but I believe the commitment is there to do whatever it takes."

Signs of a new social consensus against drugs emerged over the summer, Bagdasar and other school officials said. They cite the heavy publicity given to the drug-related deaths of athletes Len Bias and Don Rogers, President Reagan's declaration of a national "war on drugs" and growing concerns over the ready availability of new drugs, such as the rapidly addictive form of cocaine popularly called "crack."

They also point to a recent Gallup Poll indicating that the public has identified drugs as the most important problem facing the nation's school system. By wide margins, the poll found, adults favor such measures as searching lockers and expelling students caught using drugs.

(South Bay administrators said they search lockers when they have reason to believe that students are hiding drugs in them. Only school boards have the authority to expel students, but administrators said they do not hesitate to recommend that action in serious cases of drug violations.)

"We do seem to be gearing up for a big push," said Gus Dalis, a veteran health education specialist in the county's Department of Education. "I've been getting a lot of calls from the districts, asking for information and advice on what they should do."

Dalis said he promotes long-term planning. "I tell people to be wary of the show-biz, quick-fix approach to the problem," he said. "We will need a concentrated, tenacious effort that stresses early prevention and involves the schools, parents, the churches, law enforcement--every element of society that influences behavior."

Lennox Program a Model

One of the county's best models for that approach, Dalis said, is a program begun last year in the Lennox Elementary School District.

A $28,000 grant from the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning launched the effort, and this year the local board is budgeting up to $12,000 in district funds to carry on the program in the 5,000-student system, administrator Jane St. John said.

"We feel a special obligation to our kids because the drug problem is so severe in this community," she said, noting that many of the youngsters are exposed daily to drug use and trafficking in their neighborhoods.

St. John said the district spent about $15,000 of the grant money on a copyrighted drug education program called, "Here's Looking at You, Two." The program, developed several years ago in Washington state, provides videotapes, filmstrips, books and other materials keyed to each grade level.

The training, which begins in the fourth grade, is provided once a week as part of the schools' health sciences curriculum, St. John said.

She said participation by the county Sheriff's Department has been a key factor in developing the Lennox program.

"Dan Finkelstein, the deputy working with us, has been a big hit with the kids, as well as the parents and teachers," she said. "He gives just the right image of a caring authority figure."

She said Finkelstein has helped inform teachers about drug abuse, taught classes and conducted workshops for parents.

The workshops, coordinated by program staffer Anna Aguilar, focus on why children begin using drugs, behavior that may indicate drug use and what parents can do to prevent it.

"Most parents really want to help their youngsters, but often they don't know what to do," Aguilar said. "They think that if the subject of drugs can be avoided, it won't exist."

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