Pubdate: Sun, 21 Oct 2007
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2007 The Olympian
Author: Heather Woodward


Teenagers think they're invincible.

That's how Tumwater High School senior Brandy Orgill described one of
the biggest obstacles to convincing young people to stay clear of
alcohol and drugs.

"It's a problem with kids our age," said Orgill, president of the
school's new Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club. "They
think it won't happen to them, but in a split second your life can

South Sound is no stranger to such life-changing -- and sometimes
life-ending -- events. It's been a little more than a year since four
local young people died in less than a month in car crashes in which
at least some alcohol impairment was suspected.

   Michael Butler, 21, of Olympia died Sept. 9, 2006, when the car he
was driving struck a tree.

   Alex Ward, 17, a North Thurston High student, died the next day when
the car he was driving went over an embankment.

   Jeremy Cole, 26, of Lacey died about two weeks later when the car in
which he was a passenger launched over an overpass guardrail and
crashed upside-down on Interstate 5.

   Adrianne Wallace, 16, a Tumwater High School student, died Oct. 1,
2006, when the car in which she was a passenger crashed after sliding
off a road.

Wallace's death was partly what inspired students to get involved in a
new SADD club at Tumwater High.

"It kind of hit me when Adrianne died last year; before that, I didn't
realize how bad it was," said Sarah Bullock, a Tumwater senior.
"People are still doing it. It irks me because I don't understand why."

What parents can do

It's never too early for parents to start talking to their children
about staying away from drugs and alcohol, said Mary Segawa, executive
director of Together, a nonprofit organization aimed at preventing
youth violence and substance abuse. She recommends parents at least
start talking about the issue when their children are in elementary

"By the time they're in middle school, they're going to start seeing
things, and it may be a little too late to start," Segawa said.

As children get older and crave more independence, parents shouldn't
shy from monitoring what their children and their friends are up to,
she said.

"You're not invading their privacy," Segawa said. "You're watching out
for their safety."

Parents should know where their children are and who is going to be
supervising them, said Maddy de Give, North Thurston Public Schools
executive director of student support.

Parents also should set an example with their own behavior, she said.
In addition, de Give said parents need to help their children learn
how to say "no" if peers pressure them into trying drugs or alcohol.

"They need to be able to say, 'I'd much rather do this,' " de Give
said. "It's a matter of giving them refusal skills and making them
aware of the consequences of underage drinking and drug use."

Meanwhile, if they have questions or need help with their child,
parents can turn to their health care providers, the faith community
and local schools for resources, de Give said.

For example, there are classes offered about how parents can stay
connected with their children throughout their school years. The
classes open to parents across the county came about through an effort
by Communities That Care, a coalition of local community groups
including school districts and Together, that has worked to identify
ways to help Thurston County youth stay drug- and alcohol-free.

New items to watch

Parents and school officials should be on the lookout for new energy
drinks that contain alcohol, Segawa said.

"When you look at the cans of regular energy drinks and the ones that
have alcohol, you can barely tell the difference," she said.

Parents also should closely monitor television shows and video games
to see whether they include alcohol or drug use, Segawa said. Together
staff learned about an online video game this week known as World of
Warcraft in which the screen gets blurrier as its characters consume
more alcohol, she said.

How schools help

All of North Thurston's high schools have prevention/intervention
specialists that work with troubled students, some of whom have drug
or alcohol problems. The district also has counselors, nurses, mental
health case managers, and family and child therapists who can provide

Several local high schools have organized "mock crash" assemblies in
recent years in which students witness peers simulate a dangerous
collision following a night of drinking. And many local high schools
and middle schools have mentoring programs that link younger students
making a transition to a new school with an older mentor.

After a pilot program two years ago, the Olympia School District has
started health fairs for more fifth-graders at which they learn about
the risks associated with using tobacco, alcohol and drugs. The
district also has an intervention program.

Tumwater High's new SADD club has planned a "Red Ribbon Week" at the
school starting Tuesday with help from a $175 grant from Together and
matching support from the district. Club members plan to ask peers to
sign a pledge to be drug- and alcohol-free.

"It's so important," said Todd Caffey, a Tumwater High counselor and
the club's adviser.

Black Hills High School started a new effort this year called Kid Team
in which counselors and administrators sit down to talk about students
exhibiting worrisome behavior, such as falling asleep in class.

"We want to reach out and connect with students in ways that maybe we
haven't before," Assistant Principal Chris Cain said. "We're liking
what we're seeing so far."
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