Pubdate: Sat, 08 Oct 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Erin Elaine Mosely


WETUMPKA -- Kristen Johnston is an average 16-year-old. She and her
friends share each other's deepest secrets.

Johnston said some of her friends wrote suicide notes or came to her
for help, and she too has experienced dark thoughts of ending her own

"I know some of my friends have journals, and they write a lot," said
the Wetumpka High School student. "They just write and write and when
their journals are full they just close it. They don't go back and
read it because it just reminds them of their problems.

"I think everyone goes through a stage, but you get out of it," she
said. "Just like a depression when you start out high school or go to
a new high school and you try to fit in and get all depressed. I just
figured I'd die ... whenever I die, it wasn't up to me."

These teens are not alone.

Societal stress has weighed heavy on the minds of some students in
Elmore County. According to a recent survey, 303 students out of 4,160
questioned in grades 6-12 admitted they thought a lot or seriously
about suicide.

The same survey revealed students experimented with hard drugs such as
cocaine as early as sixth grade.

The PRIDE survey is administered in school systems through the state
Department of Education. Students are given a 40-minute survey on a
variety of topics such as drug use and whether they are involved in
community or school activities. Students' identities are kept

As results from the survey and other statistical data became
available, Elmore County officials looked for ways to address the
county's substance abuse problems.

In August, the Elmore County Children's Policy Council was awarded a
$750,000 grant by the state to focus on drug use prevention.

June Myers, grant manager for the unified prevention systems grant for
Elmore County, is on the Children's Policy Council. Her group is
working with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control board to increase
checks on vendors to make sure alcohol and tobacco products are not
sold to minors. The money also will be spent on a drug prevention
program for sixth-graders throughout the county.

According to the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University
Montgomery, previous student surveys indicate Elmore County has the
highest rate of teen drug and alcohol use in the tri-county area.

The latest PRIDE results were sobering for Billy Womble, coordinator
of parent involvement for Elmore County public schools.

"(Suicide statistics) were a big, big concern of mine," she said.
"Counselors are making sure we keep track of students and reported
incidents. Our counselors are our first line of defense."

Womble also noted the survey revealed students who are active in the
community and school and have parents who are involved in their lives
are less likely to do drugs.

Benita Taylor, a parent of three kids in the system, has worked in
Wetumpka junior high and the high school and agrees with the results
of the survey.

"It (school) has changed so much in 10 to12 years," Taylor said. "If I
could afford it -- and I don't think private school is the answer to
everything -- I would put my kids in private school.

"It's scary. It's very scary," she said. "Children are nothing like
they used to be. You can see it in class. Their behavior is so ...
something is influencing them."

Monica Harrison, counselor at Elmore County's alternative school, said
the number of students she sees with suicidal thoughts has increased.
She said teachers at the school find notes or see other ways students
cry out for help.

"Now they can see cutting is just as visible," she said. "Instead of
screaming 'I need some help' they'll cut themselves. We do have babies
that need lots and lots of help." 
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