"Marijuana. Yes, it is easy to get. It is easier to get than beer," said Nick Stancampiano, 18. "I've seen cocaine, and I've seen marijuana, a lot."
Stancampiano, student government president at Madison High School, was one of a panel of six seniors who participated in a frank discussion with a group of about 200 parents about drug and alcohol use at Madison High School and Thoreau Middle School.
Mark Merrell, principal of Madison, acknowledged the issue, and pointed out that the Vienna high school is not alone. "I think we have a drug and alcohol problem at every high school in the Washington Metro area," Merrell said. "I would say we are experiencing a renaissance of marijuana, and we're starting to see cocaine also."
The drug use, Merrell said, does not often happen on school grounds; however, it has happened. This year, Madison has had 11 recommendations for expulsion, and all have been related to drugs and alcohol, he said.
"This is not a school problem, this is a community problem," said Sue Hamblin, the panel's facilitator. "For every one we're catching at a basketball game, there's 10 more someplace else."
THE PROBLEM extends across the student body, Stancampiano said. "It is definitely in all the groups," he said.
"The people that you least expect do it," said Tara Hendelman, 18.
Alison Eck, 17, was quick to point out that not every student participates. "There are students that do not do these things," she said.
Often, the students said, their classmates will get drunk or high at home. "When parents aren't home, when they're both working and out late," said Charles Lewis, senior class president at Madison. "When you [parents] go away, and leave your kid alone, it’s going to happen there."
The students said that smaller gatherings will go on when parents are home, and the children are in a basement with their friends.
"When your kids are downstairs, go check on them," advised Mark Greenfelder, principal of Thoreau.
Access to the illicit substances is also getting easier and reaching into younger grades. Fake Identification is relatively easy to get in Georgetown, Stancampiano said.
Merrell said that drug dealing rarely happens on school grounds. "I know, and I have known [who is selling drugs], and it's a matter of catching them, but they're smart enough not to do it on school grounds."
A popular venue, said the students, is the McDonald's on Chain Bridge Road opposite Madison. "There's kids that go down to McDonald's and smoke," Stancampiano said.
Other access may come from students who have graduated and stayed in the area for college. These students get to know older people and can get alcohol more easily, said Joe Canova, 18.
The drugs most prevalent are marijuana and alcohol, both of which are readily available. Cocaine use is on the rise, but only some of the students had witnessed it. Ecstasy is also rumored to be bubbling up.
"You can get ahold of whatever you want," Canova said.
THE STUDENTS themselves were disturbed by the age of some children who are getting alcohol. "I don't know how, but its getting lower and lower and lower," Stancampiano said.
"I hear stories about middle-school kids smoking," Hendelman said. "It's just being handed down, and it's reaching the middle schools."
"In every middle school, there is an issue," Greenfelder said.
The middle-school students are generally open about what they are doing, said one student. "The last time that Club Phoenix was open, I heard middle-schoolers out the wazoo talking about going to a friend's house to go drinking," Charles said.
In some cases, said Becca Verley, 16, the younger siblings are trying to outdo their older brothers and sisters.
One of the major problems the students identified for middle-school students is the dearth of activities for that age group. Activities, the students say, are one of the best ways to keep children from drugs.
In high school, the wide array of activities keeps some students from doing drugs. "I don't understand why you have to drink," Stancampiano said. "There are so many things to do."
Alison advised that new students participate in a fall sport, which typically has practices that start before the school year. "You are part of a team before school starts."
Another piece of advice they gave was that parents should know their children's friends, and their parents. "Know who your kids are hanging out with," Greenfelder said.