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'Drug free' clubs launch at Santa Clarita high schools

Santa Clarita teens who pledge not to use drugs and agree to random tests can join the DFYIT clubs, which offer social events. 'We want there to be a culture shift,' a school district official says.

September 07, 2012|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times

The new "drug free" social clubs at Santa Clarita high schools offer field trips, dances and counseling. But there's a catch: Members must agree to random drug tests.

That's no problem, say the 30-plus teenagers who have already signed up for the club at Valencia High School, committing to providing urine samples on demand.

"This is a great solution for those people trying to get a better life and stay out of drugs," said Charlie La Vine, 17, co-president of the club at Valencia High, part of an initiative called Drug Free Youth in Town, or DFYIT. "They'll stay away from drugs and alcohol because of the drug test."

The program started last month with a music-filled event in the high school's quad. School dance crew members wearing T-shirts sporting the DFYIT logo pranced onstage, and cheerleaders posted drug-free pledge stickers on a wall banner. Student body leaders and athletes extolled the virtues of joining the club and not using drugs.

"We want there to be a culture shift," said Kathy Hunter, director of student services at the Santa Clarita Valley's William S. Hart Union High School District, whose schools teach grades seven through 12. The clubs, which officials hope to establish at every junior high and high school in the Santa Clarita Valley, aim to make it "cool" to be drug free, said Evan Thomason, a Santa Clarita city spokesman.

Hunter said less than 1% of Hart School District students were caught with drugs on campus last year. But, Santa Clarita city officials contend, drug use there is on the rise. Last year there were nine heroin-related deaths in the Santa Clarita Valley, and there have been 14 so far this year, according to Lt. Robert J. Lewis, who heads the crime prevention unit at the Santa Clarita Valley sheriff's station and is involved with DFYIT.

The new program will exist alongside Hart School District's 5-year-old Comprehensive Alcohol and Drug Reduction and Education program, or CADRE, through which parents can sign up their children for random drug testing.

School officials said other anti-drug programs, such as the Just Say No advertising campaign, didn't work well because "they were adult-led instead of peer-to-peer," Hunter said.

By contrast, the DFYIT program has had a successful record in Florida and Texas, Santa Clarita officials said.

Club member Richa Shar, 17, said she was excited about the opportunity "to spread awareness" among her peers about the ills of taking drugs.

"It's to showcase that you don't need to take drugs or alcohol in high school or anywhere else to have fun," said Andreea Danny, 17, club co-president.

Her mother, Sandy Lopez, said she supported the random drug tests and lauded students who join the clubs, calling them "role models."

The success of the program would be measured yearly by documenting the number of club members who test clean, Hunter said.

"It's important that we celebrate all the kids who didn't make bad choices," said Santa Clarita's mayor, Frank Ferry.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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