Friday, April 21, 2006

Drugs don't Kill Kids, Lack of Parental Responsibility Kills Kids!

If you've been following my blog for a while, then you'll know about the teen who died from a drug overdose. Said death touching way too close for me. Well, the saga continues.

Last week, my eleven year old son came home from elementary school with a letter in his hand that confused him. The letter was from the school, they were planning on April 21 to hold a pajama day and each child would donate at least $1 to have the privilege of wearing said pajamas and the monies collected would be used to plant a tree in honour of this young girl who had "passed away".

"Mommy," my bright little boy asked, "why are they planting a tree for her, didn't she overdose on drugs?".

He showed me the letter. It gave no mention of "drug awareness", it gave no mention of the lesson to be taught from planting this tree, and indeed, left ME wondering why a tree was being planted.

I phoned the school.

I was told that the children of the school had decided to erect the tree to remember a classmate who'd died. I was left with the impression that regardless of what insensibility this project might have, it was closed to discussion and there would be no further discussion on the matter, it was set. I requested the Principal call me.

That was last Thursday.

Yesterday, after no response from the Principal, I wrote a letter and rather than write several letters, I decided to write one open letter.

This is the letter:

(The young girl's name has been removed to protect her family).


I am writing this open letter to tell you how irresponsible I find the to-date shoddy planning of "Pajama Day", this Friday at Mount Pleasant. Allowing the children to memorialize the death of this girl in this manner is an affront to any parent hoping to teach their children not to go where this girl went.

It makes sense to me that these children want to do something to remember the fact that one of their ex-school mates has died. But I find it insensible that the guiding adults at this school are allowing the desires of the children to proceed, seemingly, without wise adult guidance.

This girl died using illegal drugs. Sending a letter home to parents asking them to donate money to purchase a tree to memorialize a child who "passed away" puts this girl's death on par with that of our recently deceased teacher, Mr. Nagy or someone who might have passed away due to leukemia or some other malady. Furthermore, simply planting a tree in her honour without surrounding the function with an opportunity to teach our children not to do drugs, is thoughtless, irresponsible and misguided.

Stevie was a bright child, with a bright future and her life was snuffed out because she voluntarily did Ecstasy.

Aside from planting a tree, there are many ways that the children of Mount Pleasant can remember this girl without turning her into a bizarre cult figure who simply "passed away".

The RCMP, across Canada offers the DARE program to elementary schools. This program sends trained police officers into the schools to teach children how to avoid using and misuing tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, such as ecstasy.

The D.A.R.E. curriculum includes both the K-4 Visitation Program, and the Elementary (5th/6th grade) curriculum. These programs are specifically designed for the children of Mount Pleasant and the workbooks are available in both French and English.

DARE is a comprehensive prevention program designed to equip school children with the skills to recognize and resist social and peer pressures to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, other drugs and violence.

The D.A.R.E. workbooks cost .89 per student, and I believe that instigating an annual D.A.R.E. day program, designed to raise money to help pay for this program, is a better memorial to this girl than simply planting a tree.

I would further hope that the plaque that accompanies this "memorial" tree will state clearly the mistake that Stevie made in doing the illegal drugs that took her short life, so as to not give undue honour to Stevie's death.

It seems highly plausible to me that had Mount Pleasant had such a program in place on an annual basis, this girl's death might have been avoided.

I would suggest that taking the adult upper hand and guiding the children to do something to memorialize Stevie, by instigating a program such as D.A.R.E. within the walls of Mount Pleasant will have far more future value to our children than simply planting a tree.

In protest of this lack of thought, I will be keeping my son home from "pajama day".

I do hope that you and the other teachers involved will put a little more thought into this project.


I guess someone (or several someones) that I sent the letter to decided to forward it. Perhaps they agreed, perhaps they didn't, but the letter ended up in the hands of someone who for whatever reason didn't think this is any of my business. They called to tell me so, and the conversation ended with them threatening me.

I understand, all too well, how painful such a situation can be for people, but that's no excuse to threaten someone's life. I called the police and filed a report, but didn't press charges. I might have empathy, but I don't take chances with folks I don't know very well.

Later that afternoon, I received a phone call finally from the Principal. He was a little annoyed that I wrote the letter. He said he'd been given the impression that the "problem" was taken care of. I guess it wasn't, surprise, surprise.

I spoke to him for about an hour and he left me with the words; "You raise some very valid points", resonating in my ears. Unfortunately, I have nothing in my head, nor my heart that leads me to believe that the letter or the phone conversation changed anything. We'll see.

I told him that I believed that several parents had already dropped the ball when it came to this girl's death and that I couldn't simply sit idle and watch it get dropped again. And I mean it. Wednesday night, the town community center is holding a drug awareness meeting. I will be there. I wonder if the tree planting will come up as a topic of conversation? I hope it does. If we're to leave a legacy for our children, it should be one of truth. And the truth is, this girl died from lack of parental supervision.

She was at a friend's home for a sleepover. There was no parent. The two girls went to the house of a third kid, slightly older and again, there was no parent. The kids did ecstasy, and one of them is now dead. Where were these kids' parents? I don't know where these kids' parents were or what they were thinking.

What I do know is that three families, already in crisis, have been destroyed by this incident and I've taken it upon myself to make sure that someone who has the time to do so, picks up the ball, and runs with it. And I really hope I find someone, because if I don't, I feel I will have to be the one to run with the ball, and I really don't have the time for it.

In the event that I don't find someone to run with the ball, I've been doing some research. I've learned several things.

Teaching kids to "Just say "NO"!", and programs like "Scared Straight" and "D.A.R.E." may only work on little kids. By the time these kids are teens and are into fully experiencing life, wanting to be adults before their time, these programs aren't enough. So the next questions are: What is enough?; What works?; and, Why don't these programs work?

Unfortunately the answers to these questions are a little elusive. Mostly because not everything works for everyone. So is there a bandaid, one size fits all solution? or is there a lot of work to do?

A woman named Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum started the Safety First program, a Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs, and Drug Education in 1999. The program came about after the San Francisco Chronicle published a letter that Rosenbaum had written to her teenage son, as he started high school. Rosenbaum's idea was to put in place realistic strategies that her son could use as he wended his way through this new path in his life.

Dr. Rosenbaum earned a PhD in Medical Sociology at the University of California at San Francisco in 1979, and was a recipient of study grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for eighteen years. Dr. Rosenbaum has completed studies on Crack and Heroin addiction as well as ECSTASY and drug treatment.

I printed Dr. Rosenbaum's brochure: Safety First: Teens and Drugs. and will offer free copies to anyone who wants one, at Wednesday's meeting. And I hope to find someone enough in support of something like this to really want to run with it. And ultimately, please, cross your fingers that I'm not really alone in this; that would kill me.

Me out.