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Task Force Tackles School Drug Issue

December 11, 1986|ROY H. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Bright and early one morning last week, two teachers and a junior high school principal from Glendale School District drove about 25 miles to the Charter Oaks Unified School District in Covina. There, Asst. Supt. William W. Norin seated them around a table, handed them a toy fishing pole with a magnet and told them to "Go Fish."

And so they did, reeling in the line to hook green cards for placement on a playing board.

While this might seem like fun and games, it was serious work for Toll Junior High School Principal Martin Pilgreen and the two teachers, Gail Briggs of Allan F. Daily Continuation School and Roger Donahoo of Wilson Junior High School.

The trio had come to study a drug-abuse prevention program that is being taught in the Charter Oaks district. The game they were playing was aimed at teaching elementary school children that drugs and alcohol can be habit forming.

The three Glendale district representatives are part of a panel of 65 teachers, school administrators, parents, students, policemen, psychologists, counselors and social workers who have been examining the school system's decade-old drug-education program since October.

The panel is to recommend changes in the curriculum that will complement drug education provided by such groups as the Girl Scouts and the YMCA. It is also looking at ways to educate parents about drug and alcohol abuse and get them more involved in the issue.

School officials say such a task force was needed because the battle against student drug use has been a fragmented one.

Led by Councilman Carl W. Raggio, Jr., who was elected chairman last month, the task force has traveled throughout Southern California, telephoned various agencies and drug-prevention counseling services, pored through reams of literature and received firsthand accounts of the drug problem in the district.

The various subcommittees will make their first progress report Monday. The group's final report and recommendations are due in March.

Members of the subcommittees said that their initial findings indicate that:

The district's current drug- and drinking-awareness program is ineffective because it is not comprehensive and is somewhat outdated.

A program is needed that can be taught from kindergarten to 12th grade and teaches youngsters to resist drugs while building self-esteem.

Some form of parent education also should take place.

Some members favor selecting an established drug-education program, while others think the district should expand and run its own.

Currently, the Glendale district uses a condensed version of Project DARE, a program developed in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles school district. Under the DARE program, a Glendale police officer spends one hour on one day of the school year in fifth- and sixth-grade classes talking about self-esteem and recommending alternative activities to getting involved with alcohol and drugs.

Drug education is also taught as part of the 7th-grade, life science course and the 10th-grade health class.

No Survey Done on Use

Neither the school district nor the task force has attempted to survey the extent of drinking and drug use in the school system. Such work, school officials say, is for law enforcement agencies. But district educators and students say there is widespread use of drugs, mainly of marijuana and alcohol, among students.

A 1985 survey conducted by Rodney Skager, associate dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education, indicated that 10.7% of the 7,379 California seventh-graders surveyed reported using illegal drugs at least once. Nearly 58% said they had tried alcohol and 15.8% admitted they had become drunk.

The statistics were even more dramatic among the 11th-grader surveyed: 51.4% reported trying drugs, 85% said they had tried alcohol and 65.2% said they had gotten drunk. One out of every 13 students in this age group said they used marijuana every day.

Task-force members said they believe the statistics stated in Skager's study would probably hold true for Glendale students.

"It was okay when it was in the ghetto," said Gregory A. Bowman, the district's curriculum director and task-force liaison. "Now it is next door in Glendale and other middle-class neighborhoods and this has brought a heightened awareness."

The district's decision to form a task force is one more ripple in a wave of national awareness of drug abuse. Several school districts in Southern California have recently updated their drug-education programs, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Past Tactics Haven't Worked

Educators say many of the tactics of the past, such as frightening children by telling them the dangers of drugs or moralizing about drug use, have not worked.

"If we taught reading the way we teach children about drugs, we would be a nation of illiterates," Guy Dalis, a county health education specialist told the task force at its first meeting on Oct. 20.

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