Town Meeting Examines Student Survey

Town Meeting Examines Student Survey

Reston resident John Oladimeji, a teacher at West Springfield High School, was recently jogging around Lake Anne when he saw a group of high school students, some of whom he knew, hanging out on one of Reston’s trails.

"They were all smoking, and some were doing other drugs," Oladimeji said. "Two said, ‘Hi, Mr. O,’ and one even waved with a cigarette in his hand."

Oladimeji didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t arrest all of the teenagers himself. And he wasn’t sure if they were members of a gang.

"I didn’t do anything," Oladimeji said. "I was sad, disturbed. I didn‘t know what to do."

Oladimeji recounted his story during a town meeting last Tuesday, May 21 at the Reston Community Center. Local school and governmental officials gathered there to discuss a 2001 student survey that measured drug use, alcohol use and violence among Fairfax County High School students.

Lt. Bill Machinski, from the Reston District Station of the Fairfax County Police Department, said Oladimeji could have called the station in order to alert the neighborhood patrol team.

Machinski said he and his colleagues use the survey results in their policing efforts.

"We say, ‘Well, if these kids are drinking, where are they getting the alcohol from?" Machinski said.

THE SURVEY, conducted in early 2001, was given to nearly 12,000 students, approximately 40 percent of the students in eighth, tenth and twelfth grades.

The survey reported a variety of statistics: 21 percent of eighth graders, 36 percent of tenth graders and 53.4 percent of twelfth graders reported using alcohol within the past 30 days; 60 percent of twelfth graders reported using cigarettes; 54.6 percent of all respondents recalled at least one instance where they had bullied, taunted, ridiculed or teased someone; 46 percent said they had been bullied at one time or another; 18.5 percent had seriously considered suicide in the past year, with 8.2 percent attempting suicide.

"Our children are saying, ‘We are doing this,’" said Alvarez LeCesne, from RCC. "We need to address it."

Officials stressed that parents need to be involved in their children’s lives. Betsy Goodman, director of Cluster 8 schools, pointed out that prom season is coming up. She said parents need to find out exactly what their children are doing.

"Kids say to their parents, ‘You will not do that, you will not go over to that house and talk to the adults in charge,’" Goodman said. "Don’t listen to them."

STUART GIBSON, Reston resident and chair of the Fairfax County School Board, told a story about an affluent Oakton woman who, two or three years ago, was shocked to find out that her son was part of a large network of drug distributors. After hearing the news the mother helped found the Oakton Coalition, a group that promotes family involvement to battle teen drug use.

"She became a very strong voice in parents taking extreme measures to help their kids," Gibson said. "That’s what it takes. More parents need to be in the deal with the situation mode rather than the ignore the situation mode."

Fran Lovaas, a meeting attendee, noticed that there were very few parents in attendance at the meeting. She asked what had been done publicity-wise.

"No matter how much we publicize, we still have the problem of reaching the folks who really need our services," Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said. "It’s really important we start making a larger connection with people in the neighborhoods. But I really think this is the best we can do with the routes we have."