Pleasantville School District officials are trying to get the community more involved in talking about and tackling the issue of substance abuse among village teens.
At Tuesday evening’s board of education meeting, Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter highlighted the programs the district now offers to promote good decision making, with help from youth officer Morgan Cole-Hatchard and partnerships with county organizations including Student Assistance Services and the Reduce Our Adolescent Drinking/Drugging and Driving (ROADD) Program.
Despite viewed as a safe community, Pleasantville hasn’t been spared of incidents of drug use. Most recently, three Pleasantville High School students were hospitalized on Sept. 11 after smoking synthetic marijuana in a parking lot off school grounds.
School officials are trying to identify the students who are most at risk and help to engage them in activities that interest them. This will help fill free time after school and hopefully prevent them from idly hanging out, which Pleasantville Police Chief Richard Love called a “recipe for disaster.”
“If they’re not doing purposeful, meaningful things, if they’re hanging out all the time, chances are, because they’re curious, they’re not always going to make the best decisions,” said Board President Shane McGaffey.
Village residents in attendance noted that there is concern over teens congregating in locations throughout the village on weekends and after school, such as the parking lot behind the Marmaduke Forster House on Bedford Road. Love acknowledged that the department is aware of the problem, and has responded by having officers check the area every 15 minutes. While it is illegal to force kids to leave if they’re not breaking the law, officers will typically speak with youths and try to develop a relationship.
Community members, in conjunction with the school, village government and police department recently formed Pleasantville Strong (Safe Teens, Real Opportunities, New Goals), a coalition formed to combat drug issues. A $125,000 grant, called Pleasantville Safe, has also been applied for to fund drug prevention programs. The group wants to make sure that parents aren’t afraid to ask important questions about drugs and alcohol, such as inquiring of other families where alcohol is kept before letting their child spend the night at a friend’s house.
Love also spoke about the prescription drug drop box located at police headquarters and urged residents to bring unused prescriptions for disposal. In addition, he warned parents to be cautious with prescription drugs.
“If you have prescription drugs in your house, treat them like you would treat a gun in your house,” Love said. “They’re dangerous, lock them away. It may not be your child, it may be someone else coming into your house that’s a friend…they will take the drugs and use them.”
Pleasantville Strong is currently working on surveys for parents to answer to determine attitudes toward drugs and alcohol and whether they think experimentation is a natural part of going up. McGaffey explained that once the coalition and school district sees how the community responds, they can develop programs geared toward parents and attempt to influence those who are accepting of drug use and underage drinking.
Officials also hope to remove the stigma from addiction by letting parents know that it’s okay for them and their children to reach out for help. Trustee Emily Persons said many addictions begin innocently before escalating, such as a child taking medication to alleviate pain from a sports injury. The district plans to have a list of resources on its website for parents to refer to and seek help anonymously.
Resident John Mueller, who recently hosted a pig roast at his home to raise money for a substance abuse prevention counselor, noted that the goal is to prevent the drug problem in Pleasantville from escalating to the level it has in other communities, where parents need more information about rehabilitation facilities as opposed to prevention.
Recently, Pleasantville was ranked as the fourth safest community in New York State by Safe Choice Security, a home security vendor, and was said to be safer than 93 percent of all cities in America. Despite the ranking, Mayor Peter Scherer reminded residents they are not immune from the rampant drug use plaguing the nation.
“It’s a safe place, but a place where things happen just like they do everywhere in the world,” he said.
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