December 15, 2011
Community News

CLIFTON  PARK — Shenendehowa Community Coalition were there but where were all the parents? That was the major question confronting members of the Shenendehowa Community Coalition at last week’s parent-teen forum on substance abuse in the Shen school district.

The coalition was established six years ago to reduce and prevent risky behavior among youth. Since its formation, data from several district-wide surveys of adults and teens has shown that Shen seniors are above the state average in the number of teens using drugs or alcohol.

Twelve sectors of the southern Saratoga County community are represented in the coalition including teens, adults, CAPTAIN, religious organization, and the school district itself.

The Dec. 7 forum was one of several that have been held in the last year.

The forums allow adults to learn the details of teen drinking and substance abuse in the school district from the teens themselves. Coalition officials said with each one there has been a readiness on the part of the teens to discuss the issue but a decided lack of adult participation.

Last week’s forum in the High School East Library drew 10 teens, including the night’s seven-member panel, and just six parents. The panel was made up of five Shen students and two Shen graduates who are now in college.

For nearly an hour Joe Kelly, Billy Kelly, Vince Krawiecki, Olivia Corbett, Molly Poniatowski, Jess Wolfe and Kristy Gunsel discussed why and how teens use drugs and drink alcohol.

Without admitting to any crimes they gave graphic details of teen parties, drug sales, and the social pressure teens face. They answered every question posed as best they could, holding very little back.

The panel made it clear teens are very social and that is part of the problem. You want to belong to a group, said one panelist.

You can’t say no to everyone. You’d be an outcast in a huge school. If you don’t play sports, and you’re not in the clubs and someone asks if you drink you say ‘yes,’ whether you do or not, because that makes you part of the group.

“There’s no discussion of who is the least drunk to drive when a group heads out from a party for more beer,” said Billy Kelly, answering a question. “It’s just, ‘He drives good drunk. Let him drive.’’ “Safety,” said Joe Kelly, “is never a thought. They just want the alcohol.”

When discussing marijuana use in the high school, Joe Kelly dismissed the idea that students were high while in class. “Nine of 10 times kids that are bringing it to school aren’t going to use it in school,” he said. “They’re going to sell it.”

The Community Coalition was able to sponsor the forum thanks to an $800,000 grant from the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. The forum and the following discussion was lead by coalition facilitator Evan Williamson, a former social studies teacher hired by the coalition. He was assisted by Jenn Wood and Robin Lyle.

Wood does statistical analysis for the coalition. The data she provides will allow the organization to apply for more grant money.

One of the longest discussions of the evening revolved around the issue of social host legislation. If proposed and passed in the state legislature, the person providing the location for the teen drinking parties would be held responsible for the teen activities whether they were aware of what went on or not. That is not the case with the present laws.

Craig Masterson, one of the few adults who attended the forum, asked the teens what the coalition could do to help prevent alcohol abuse.

“There never was a clear answer to my question,” Masterson said afterward, “but this is a worthwhile program and the parents are the key.”

Teen panelists Kristy Gunsel and Jess Wolfe are members of SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions.

“This is very important to us,” Wolfe said. “We’ve known someone hit by a drunk driver. When it comes to personal situations, you realize it’s not something that someone told you. It’s real.”

The Community Coalition plans more forums like the one last week and is looking to put them up on the web.

They are also examining other ways to get the data out to parents on where Shen stands with teen substance abuse when compared to other Capital Region school districts.