A recent study suggests that students at Mt. Hope High School are among the biggest high-school age users of drugs in Rhode Island.
Professors at Brown University released its Community Profile Study last month, which revealed that Mt. Hope High School ranked No.1 in the state of students who abuse prescription drugs, have tried cocaine, and are under the influence of drugs while at school.
The study was conducted by Dr. Samantha R. Rosenthal and Stephen L. Buka, of the Department of Epidemiology at Brown University, and commissioned by the Rhode Island State of Epidemiology and Outcomes Workgroup.
The report also determined that students at Kickemuit Middle School ranked No. 1 in the state of students who have tried inhalants, and tried prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them by a doctor.
“It’s extremely concerning to the administration at the high school,” said Melinda Theis, Superintendent of the Bristol Warren School District. “We will be conducting focus groups with students to discuss this issue.”
While the data is alarming, some have questioned the validity of the report.
“When it comes to data like this, I wonder if the kids take it as seriously as they need to,” said Maria Ursini, substance abuse prevention coordinator for the Town of Bristol. “So some of the numbers, I believe, aren’t accurate.”
The report data is derived from the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education SurveyWorks! from 2012-2013. The anonymous survey was administered in public schools in 39 communities from Jan. 10 to March 15, 2013. Students were given a randomly-generated access code, preventing multiple entries or unauthorized access. According to RIDE, students’ personal information was not associated with the access codes.
Of the 1,123 students at Mt. Hope High School, only 79.5-percent completed the survey.
“Sometimes there are concerns regarding the validity of accurate reporting by students,” Ms. Theis said. “But with 79-percent participating, that’s a stable sample size and would lead me to believe that certainly some of this information may be accurate.”
Mt. Hope High School students have publicly joked about the school being called Mt. Dope, referring to the amount of illegal drug use there. The community has known for awhile about a possible drug problem at the high school, said Ms. Ursini, and with the latest information, she’s hopeful that something can be done about it.
“Hopefully this is a wakeup call to our community,” Ms. Ursini said.
What’s lacking, she continued, is accountability among school administration and parents.
“I believe that if you have a policy set, it needs to be followed,” Ms. Ursini said. “If everything was in place, and people were doing what they are supposed to do, I don’t believe the numbers would be as high as they are.”
That same RIDE SurveyWorks was taken by 28 teachers at Mt. Hope High School. Of those responses, only 17.9-percent agreed that discipline policies at the school were effective.
Currently, students who are caught being under the influence of alcohol or drugs at school, or in possession of drugs or alcohol at school, are subject to off-school suspension, mandatory counseling, and up to 10 weeks of community service or two weeks detention. Parents are also notified as are the Bristol and Warren police departments.
What students do off-campus, not during school hours, however, is the responsibility of the parents, Ms. Ursini said. If parents are not enforcing that students abstain from using illegal substances, then the battle for a substance-free school goes more uphill.
“I hear a lot more as we get older that parents don’t care about their kids drinking,” said Samantha Palumbo, a senior at Mt. Hope High School. “As long as it’s controlled and their kids aren’t bad, they don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Since she was a sophomore, Samantha has been promoting healthy lifestyle decisions with STAAND — Students Taking Action Against Negative Decisions. The student-comprised substance abuse prevention group meets once a week, and is run by Ms. Ursini and Annmarie Roy, substance abuse prevention coordinator for the Town of Warren.
STAAND puts on various prevention programs, such as the pre-prom dinner, Red Ribbon Week, prom promise, and the mock car crash.
“I think what we’re doing is effective and it works,” said Mt. Hope senior Marissa Ursini of the mock car crash. “I think that kids in our school need to be scared in order for the idea to come across that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.”
Marissa, who is Maria Ursini’s daughter, echoed Samantha’s sentiment about parents’ attitudes towards students drinking. Parents who attended STAAND’s pre-prom dinner with their student were asked to fill out an anonymous survey, reflecting on the event. While a majority of responses were supportive, some parents criticized the group’s efforts.
“Some responses were cocky,” said Ms. Roy. “One said that since we didn’t support the marijuana bill, they didn’t want to support us.”
Another respondent, Ms. Roy said, joked about the event’s police presence, wondering if the local coffee shops were missing their customers.
“Parents were more allowing their kids to drink on prom night because they did it when they were in school,” Marissa said.
Parents are also asked to fill out the RIDE SurveyWorks survey. However, only .4-percent of high school parents did. SurveyWorks requires a 10-percent participation in order to publish the results.
“I think some kids are going to drink or do drugs no matter what,” Samantha said. “Mt. Hope is like any other high school. (Drugs) are not that hard to stay away from. I’ve never felt pressured to do anything either.”