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Safe Youth Coalition Targets Risky Behavior

When Steve Fitzhugh of the Denver Broncos got up in front of the middle-school students at Hayfield Secondary School to discuss risky behavior, Steven Adler, 14, could tell that his classmates were interested.

"Everyone was quiet and listening," Steven said.

Fitzhugh's topic, "Power Moves & Me," addressed risky behavior, a term that encompasses drug use, alcohol, sex and other activities.

"It was real noisy, and when he spoke," Steven said, "it was quiet."

The football player spoke to the students about the dangers of drinking alcoholic beverages. Steven's mother, Lisa Adler, thinks that the fact that the students listened is a first step in getting the message out. Adler is the president of the Safe Behavior Coalition, a group of parents and government, police and school officials that are getting the word out about risky behavior to students in time for proms, graduation and beach week.

"It does sink in. Do I know how long it lasts? No, I don't," Adler said.

Adler's coalition includes representatives from Cluster V, schools surrounding Hayfield Secondary, Lee High School and Edison High School. As a parent, Adler knows that parents are ultimately the source to educate their children on risky behavior. In addition to her son Steven, Adler has a son Ryan, who graduated from Hayfield and is now attending Radford University, and a daughter Allie, who is a junior at Hayfield.

"This is a total awareness campaign. You want to give them tools to help keep them safe. As a parent you'll sleep better," Adler said.

Allie is going to the prom in June, but the plans are not set yet.

"I offered to have an after-prom party," Adler said, but the response was less than enthusiastic.

"They'll go, have a good time, but the question is, what will they do after?"

SPRINGFIELD RESIDENT Diane Smith has a daughter, Allison, 17, who is a junior at West Springfield. Smith keeps on top of the teen issues. Smith is not part of Adler's coalition but did work with Adler on school issues before.

"What she's [Allison] planning and what she'll do are sometimes two different things. I think the parents need to get more involved," Smith said.

All through school in Fairfax County, the students are exposed to drugs and alcohol awareness in a program called Family Life Education (FLE). In elementary school, the classroom teacher teaches FLE. In middle school and up to the sophomore year in high school, FLE is taught in the physical education and health classes. Juniors and seniors receive their FLE lessons in social studies and special programs, said Tam Ballou, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Family Life coordinator.

"We have drug and alcohol prevention lessons from kindergarten through 12th grade. There are a variety of ways it's taught on the high-school level," Ballou said.

The school system revised the program for ninth-graders last year because the program they were introduced to gave the impression drug and alcohol use was more prevalent than it was.

"Students generally overestimate that their peers use drugs and alcohol," Ballou said.

FCPS is currently revising the middle-school program for next fall. As far as the junior and seniors are concerned, "The School Board is looking at ways to have it instructed in less traditional ways," Ballou said.

IN MAY, Adler's coalition is putting together a few awareness programs to get the message out. On May 1, she's running a program called "Sticker Shock," sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Adler is getting a couple of groups together, arming them with sheets of stickers to put on beer containers, reminding the cashiers to check everyone's identification. Then on May 4, 11 and 18, they are offering the class "Guiding Good Choices" for parents and running a reminder on area movie screens about underage drinking.

Phil Edwards and Sherry Cook are crime prevention officers at the Franconia District Station. They help the coalition when possible, including finding stores where the owners will participate in the Sticker Shock program.

"If you stop one person from doing it [drinking], then it's a success," Edwards said.

With the media, Adler feels she's fighting a losing battle, especially with MTV and VH1.

"I don't think they do anything for this culture," she said.

One of the coalition's goals is to get a Boys and Girls Club in Springfield as well. Adler has worked with Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd) and Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th) on this. But the plan is still in its infancy stage. The club still needs a location and commitments from the community. Also, a board of directors needs to be established, and funds need to be raised.

Lee High School senior Amy Clements thinks her parents' message gets through on drugs and drinking.

"My deterrent is 'what would happen if my parents found out?'" Amy said, but she didn't think just getting the information out would do any good.

"I would think the kids know the dangers, and it's not a deterrent. Experimentation [with drugs and alcohol], it's either going to happen or it's not," Amy said.

Chanel Doherty is a sophomore at Lee and is going through the health class in which drugs are addressed.

"We talk about it and stuff in health. They just skim over it [drug warnings]. I don't like it when they drill that stuff in your head," Chanel said.

The health class was a few years ago for Amy.

"I can't remember what they said about pot when I was a sophomore," she said.

Both Amy and Chanel are on the track team at Lee, so their attention is on track for now. As for a Boys and Girls Club, Clements would only go if it had a nightclub atmosphere.

"It would have to be more of a teen club, hip-hop with rhythm, or a teen night at a club," Amy said.