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Parents Get Survey Results and a Dose of Drug Abuse in Schools

When Springfield resident Hayley Gagarin showed up at Hayfield Secondary School for a county program on drugs and risky behavior among high school students in the county, she was on a fact-finding mission. Her daughter will be in seventh grade next year and Gagarin wanted to see what the atmosphere her daughter would be in.

"My daughter's going to be in seventh grade next year and I want to find out what's going on," she said, with only what she's read as well as what she experienced in high school to build on.

"I think it's worse but I don't know for sure, that's why I'm here," she said.

Another mother was there on a similar mission. Her daughter is a 17-year-old at Hayfield and her grades are slipping. The mother, who chose not to give her name, wanted to find out why.

"It's hard for me to understand, she was a good student and now she's not," she said.

The program, entitled "Is Your Head Buried in the Sand?" started out with a series of student skits about ecstasy use, driving and drinking and marijuana. There were talks by police officers, drug counselors and school resource officials. Suzette Reynolds is the school resource specialist in Cluster V. She reiterated the data compiled from a recent survey on substance use and youth risks was conducted on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2001 involving 12,000 students, grades 8, 10 and 12.

"Alcohol and marijuana are probably the two most widely used substances by students," she said.

Reynolds also talked about warning signs, referring to the skits that portrayed abusers, and dangers associated with certain drugs.

"A lot of times, kids don't know what they're getting with ecstasy," she said.

Pat McConnell is the director of youth services in the Fairfax County Community Services. They have 20 staff members for the entire county. Aside from the program at Hayfield, she noted the county-wide attention drug abuse and alcohol is getting.

"We have a couple of prevention programs that operate in selected schools," he said.

Those schools include Centreville and Chantilly High Schools as well as alternative learning centers Dunn Loring, Pimmit Hills, Eleven Oaks, Mt. View, Oakton, Braddock and Bryant.

Amrit Daryanani, coordinator of leadership and resilience program in the county community services, said, "The county ultimately is going to have the program expanded in all the high schools."

"We need accurate information to what's going on. We need to design services for the actual need," she said.

Funding is an issue with the community services as well but they still plan on hiring another person, using funds from the tobacco settlement, according to Daryanani.

FAIRFAX COUNTY police officer Ken Compher is in the county gang unit, which was originally formed in 1997 but cut by the Board of Supervisors and then reinstated in 1998 after there was a gang-related homicide on school grounds.

"In Fairfax County, we probably deal with 25 gangs on a regular basis. There isn't a county or city in Northern Virginia that doesn't have a gang problem," he said.

Fairfax Station resident Beth Riddle has a daughter at Hayfield. She is involved in the problems her daughter faces but looked at the sparse crowd at the presentation with disappointment.

"I just wanted to be informed, to reinforce what I already knew. It's the people that aren't involved that should be here," she said.

Jane Stone was also from Fairfax Station and she has a rising seventh grader that will be at Hayfield next year. Stone remembered when she was growing up.

"My mom had no clue of what was going on, I refuse to be like that," she said.

THE SURVEY RESULTS were released in May 2001, showing that alcohol was the most prevalent, available, attractive and pervasive drug used by adolescents. Findings for reported lifetime use indicated marijuana use increased from eighth through twelfth grades, cigarettes were the second most reported substance used by all grades, and Fairfax County students scored lower than the national sample in virtually all 13 substance categories.

In the findings for 30-day use, respondents scored lower than the national prevalence rates in all 30-day use categories except 12th grade use of alcohol, binge drinking and hallucinogens. Binge drinking is categorized as five or more drinks in one sitting in the last two weeks. Twenty-one percent of eighth graders, 36 percent of 10th and 53.4 percent of 12th graders reported 30-day use of alcohol.

Other risk behaviors on the survey included bullying, taunting, ridiculing or teasing, as well as being drunk or high in school and suicide. Results indicate that Fairfax youth feel a lower sense of neighborhood attachment, have a feeling of poorer family supervision and discipline, and have a perception of poor academic performance and school commitment. They were above the national average in the areas of opportunities to participate in positive school activities, have a clear understanding of societal expectations and demonstrate a better than average tendency to avoid being involved in delinquent behaviors at younger ages.

Gang unit officer Compher noted his goal at meetings of this nature.

"If I reach out to one parent and that parent goes out in the neighborhood, that's one more pair of eyes," he