Students Speak Out: "We're More Than Just Drugs"
James Madison High School students talk about drug use at their school
On the walls of some of Madison High School's bathrooms, the drawings appear regularly: marijuana leaves scrawled across the tops of paper towel dispensers, scratched into walls or drawn beneath crudely carved messages.
One that appeared this winter read: "Remember prohibition? It still doesn't work."
The graffiti, published in "Hawktalk," Madison High School's student newspaper, isn't representative of everyone at Madison, said students who responded to a Vienna Patch survey about drug use at the school.
The survey was sent to students through student organizations, and also via members of the Concerned Parents Working Group*. All responses were sent in writing. Highlights from the survey can be read in the PDF attached to this article.
"We're more than just drugs," student Jaleece Durham told parents at a November meeting of the Vienna-Madison Community Coalition, a school-community partnership of parents, school staff, youth, local police and others that has organized meetings this year about alcohol, drug and tobacco use by Madison students.
That's one thing upon which all students who spoke with Vienna Patch could agree.
Another is a growing embarrassment about the reputation Madison had earned for being a place where marijuana is readily available, and where students smoke it often.
Langley High School has held a "tie-dye" day in the past in preparation of a football game against Madison, students say. The reason: Madison is "full of pot head" hippies, they said.
"I don't think our school has any more of a problem than any other High School has," one junior said. "There are students who do drugs, as most people expect from a high school, but there is no pressure to do drugs."
Some Madison students say that reputation has gotten worse thanks to parent community meetings this year.
Many students say they don't think there's a drug problem because they choose not to involve themselves with drugs – "[we] know who does drugs. None of my friends do drugs." -- or, that drug use is just a part of the high school experience.
Most of the few dozen students who answered Vienna Patch's survey said they'd seen kids come to class high – regardless of whether or not they’d actually seen their peers use the drugs in school beforehand.
"I have witnessed drug use in the bathrooms and have smelled drugs in the bathroom. You just know what bathrooms not to use," a recent female graduate said.
Some students told stories about being asked to buy drugs in the bathrooms, or watching kids walk out to Flint Hill Road to smoke pot or cigarettes before returning to class. They'd seen kids smoking in the boys bathroom; smelled smoke in the math hallway.
A student council representative at VMCC's November meeting said she could come and go from the building freely during the day. When students hand in doctor's notes, she said, they are free to come and go, a departure from the policy at her middle school, where security officers or school staff would escort the student to the door.
Students are allowed arrive late to school several times before a note is sent home, a policy some students say allows teens to "wake and bake" and show up to class late, or, smoke marijuana after a doctor's or other appointment and then return to school.
When they do return to class, students said teachers usually do nothing — usually because "they just don't notice," students say.
Some students said there was "nothing more the administration could do."
"Kids know the consequences," one student wrote. "They just think they are above them."
Many students who answered the survey said they didn't think it was the teacher's responsibility to turn students into the administration.
"I do not think that it should be a teacher's obligation to turn in a student under the influence of drugs. It puts the teacher in danger ... We've all been in high school and we all know that high school students do drugs, and even though that's not right, let alone legal, why should teachers be obligated to monitor it now when it wasn't gotten that much worse over the years," one junior wrote.
Those students said it should be the administration enforcing the policy.
"Despite all the talk it seems as though there is not a lot of action," a junior wrote. "Coaches should not turn a blind eye when they find out a star player has been doing drugs, but I have heard that it happens anyway."
Since the November VMCC meeting, the school's Student Government Association began issuing weekly public service announcements, which include a statistic or fact about substance abuse that reminds students of the consequences of those types of actions.
*Correction: Concerned Parents are not members of the VMCC.
Parents say that students are a key part of drug education and prevention efforts.
"Students cannot put their heads in the sand. Students must be advocates for not doing drugs. Students cannot say that drugs or alcohol are only a parent or school problem," a parent said at a VMCC meeting earlier this year.
Other articles in this series