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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

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

MAL March 24, 2011 at 03:47 PM
nikki, Thank you so much for proving my point!
Maggie March 24, 2011 at 04:20 PM
This is not directed at any one person - it's directed at everyone....I have read through each and every comment more than once. I do not see one that blames Madison for anything. I do not see one that says Madison is not an excellent school. I do not see one that denies that drugs are in every school. I do not see one that suggests it is possible to eradicate drug use among young people. I do not see one that suggests parents don't have a responsibility to talk to their kids about drugs. I do not see one that blames the community for anything. I do not see one from a parent telling young people how to live their lives. I do see some that say everyone in the community should work together. I do see some that say the student voice needs to be heard. I do see some that say the current drug education in school is not effective. I do seem some that say that kids without parent support need help. I do see a lot of contradictory statistics. I do see some comments from students saying Madison is great. I do see some from students saying Madison has drugs and something should be done about it. I do see some that suggest some people have multiple personality disorder. And, I do see many from young people telling parents how to live their lives and raise their kids.
Jane March 24, 2011 at 04:34 PM
Thank you and amen!
Maggie March 24, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Nikki - I read them all again (for probably the 10th time). The only person who says the administration is not doing its job is Chloe - and she is a student, not a parent. Everyone else seems to be saying that parents should implement good parenting and also that parents should work with the school and the students to help out. I am not being argumentative - I am seriously inquiring about what you have perceived as whining. I agree that good parenting is first and foremost, but I disagree that anyone on this thread is not taking responsibility. When I read the comments, I hear some parents saying exactly what you are saying about good parenting, and I hear some parents agreeing with that but also saying that some of the strategies for educating students need to be improved. That doesn't have anything to do with Madison - that has to do with the Fairfax County curriculum. I also hear some parents saying that not all kids have the same kind of parents, so they want to help the ones that don't so they don't get in trouble. Every student deserves to have their voice heard, to be told the truth about drugs, to be able to ask questions and get a straight answer (not a "just say no" answer). And every student should have to be spared the agony of watching the corny drug videos that Bob mentioned. Would you agree with that?
Laura B. March 24, 2011 at 06:11 PM
I'm getting tired of reading sociological pabulum about parenting and personal responsibility, which are certainly reasonable but rather difficult to achieve short-term. It would be much more interesting to hear specific concrete suggestions about what to do and what not to do, to keep drugs out of any high school. My vote is to do something about the bathrooms. The students say that's where the smoking goes on, both of tobacco and other less legal plant material. Install tamper-proof smoke detectors in the bathrooms. They make ones that specifically detect cigarette smoke. Since there are particular bathrooms that have more of a problem, arrange for a staff member to be in those bathrooms before school, after school, and between classes. No fun, but there are a lot of adults working in the building and they can take turns. They can lean casually against the wall and read a book. The current practice of locking the bathrooms is cruel and demeaning. Though I've been told that most of the water fountains don't work, and I wonder if there's a connection?
Maggie March 24, 2011 at 06:13 PM
And, one more thing... Is it your opinion that any kid who is not "drug-free" has bad parents? Is it possible for someone to have very good parents and still choose to do drugs?
Maggie March 24, 2011 at 06:14 PM
That is a question for everyone to think about, seriously.
Maggie March 24, 2011 at 06:28 PM
L Bligh - your suggestions do not help to disspell the myth that we're all evil, nosey, punitive parents who don't take responsibility and just want the school to fix the problem caused by our bad parenting. :) I think the goal is to actually get students (however few of them there are) to stop smoking (pot or cigarettes) in school - not to actually catch them doing it. :) Not saying there shouldn't be some basic measures to detect it when it happens, but definitely think the money and teacher time would be better invested in education. Just my two cents.
Maggie March 24, 2011 at 06:31 PM
And, with that...I'm signing off for good. Even I have had enough of me. :)
Bob Marley March 25, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Pamm: This issue in that exchance was that Jane would charge kids with making adult decisions and seperate that responsibility entirely from the parents. If she believes that I am somehow capable of finding a moral compass and concrete sense of self apart from any guidance, then she should address me as an adult or at least as a senitent human being. I am 18, enjoy long walks on the beach, and keep hamsters. Would my social security number be a better assurance of my identity? Maggie - there is no one-to-one correlation between good parenting and good kids, but if after 15 years parents have failed to instill values in their children, it's shaky to assume that some school intervention or community intervention will. And the fact is that in the vast majority of these cases, absent or enabeling parents are involved.
Bob Marley March 25, 2011 at 05:56 PM
I'd like to lay a blanket assertion down at this point. I don't think the young adults on this forum are right, and I don't think the parents are either. The key to every conflict is communication. Parents don't *in the kids' eyes* respect the students, and therefore the students don't respect the adults. As adults, I believe that the burden of establishing respect and communication lies with you - but as students, we should demonstrate that we're prepared to act like adults if we demand to be treated as them. To this end: Parents, avoid stereotyping children or making generalizations about us. Students, avoid criticizing adult intervention when we're giving them reasons to intervene. I doubt that such communication will ever be established, but I firmly believe that no solution will ever be found until it has.
Mark March 25, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Thanks for your reply. I didn't read Jane's reply to say that at all. I thought the point was parents have a responsibility to raise their children and do the best they can, but in the end, a child can still make a poor decision whether they have had phenomenal parents or absent parents. I like what you say below!! I hope that such communication as you suggest can occur at least at some level. It is always good to step back and try and see things from a different perspective, that may not necessarily be yours, but there is never justification for disrespect to anyone. I think parents do need to respect their children but also to instill values and a moral compass and correct when necessary. Correction does not equate to disrespect though.
Lynn March 26, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Funny how all this got started when a parent thought a baggie of chex mix was drugs!
Bill March 27, 2011 at 05:03 AM
Even funnier how some people believe that lame story. I've heard the chex mix version and the trail mix version and neither are believable because neither look anything like weed. I'm like Bob Marley and don't think anyone is right on here but we all know what was in the baggie. The more kids that keep saying it was trail or chex mix the dumber we look. Don't give us a bad rep.
Betterthanyou April 09, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Receiving inconsistent accounts of a story does not indicate an invalidity within the story, but an invalidity with one of the sources. Multiple accounts should not create skepticism. In addition, our criminal court system acts on the basis that the affirmative must uphold the burden of proof, which in this case is a bag of weed. Accordingly it is necessary to approach this account with an open, rational mindset, rather than the hostile, emotion-fueled skepticism and confirmation bias that fuels much of the bitterness between the juveniles and the adults. As a syllogism: Parent 1 claims that Bag A contains Marijuana. Kids 1 and 2 say Bag A has Chex Mix. Marijuana and Chex Mix do not look alike. Therefore, Bag A contains marijuana. This logic is horrifically flawed. You failed to present proof, thus it becomes an ad ignorantiam argument with absence of evidence. You can also just as easily substitute marijuana with Chex Mix in the conclusion, actually it's probably easier... "The kids were "tracked down and questioned" http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/cms/story.php?id=2404 As well, there are several logical flaws in your argument, I don't have enough space to write them all, so will point out just a few chronologically. Ad hominem, ad ridiculum, causal oversimplification, ad ignorantiam, false consensus...etc. "The more kids that keep saying it was trail or chex mix the dumber we look." Correlation does not indicate causation
Bill April 09, 2011 at 01:35 AM
I would not normally spend my time on these parent blogs. I read this article because someone mentioned something about it and I was curious as to what the students said on the surveys. And it is hard not to read the comments of people arguing back and forth. I somehow got an email with your comment. I will have to uncheck that box that I see now but since I already read your very Socratic reasoning, I thought I should let you know that all of your logic and ad makeitupisms are flawed because some of us know the students involved and know that it was not trail mix. The trail mix "claim" is a rumor and no one knows how it got started. Kids did not claim anything because kids were not asked. When I said that we all know what was in the baggie it's because we all really know what was in the baggie. I hate to break it to y'all but Madison students are not passing trail mix around. The students who keep saying this are just repeating what they heard and making it look like kids are just defending other kids. That's why I said they are giving us a bad rep. Kids at Madison smoke weed. State the truth when we all know the truth. That's what I'm saying. And no matter how much you apply your better than everyone else logic it won't change the truth.
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 06:43 AM
Without a doubt kids at Madison do smoke weed, but I am referring to this singular incident. If there is one witness who attests that the bag has marijuana, regardless of who knows the kids, the story's legitimacy is not confirmed, and the knowledge of "some of us", outside of Allison Noll, is textbook hearsay. From Fairfax Times: "Parent Alison Noll said she spotted two boys trading a plastic bag of marijuana during a volleyball game at the school. When she reported it to school staff, they tracked down the boys and questioned them about it. The boys reportedly told school staff that they were sharing a bag of trail mix." Now you've created several inconsistencies which may indicate a preexisting cognitive bias against the students, if not with Mrs. Noll.
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 06:45 AM
1. Firstly you say my logic and ad makeitupisms are flawed (which I take great offense to, because my ad makeitupisms are never flawed), because "some of us know the students involved and know that it was not trail mix." Who was involved has nothing to do with the contents of the container. You still have not substantiated your knowledge of the contents. I could just as easily say that some of us know the kids and know that it was trail mix. The entirety of the "some of us" were not witnesses, aside from Noll. It is an argument from ignorance (ad ignorantiam, not an insult). 2. There has been no confirmation for the story that the contents were weed, thus Mrs. Noll's claim must be considered a rumor until it is proven true. In Salem, when Mary Proctor was accused of witchcraft, the rumor going around was not that she wasn't a witch. 3. You claim to know that the kids are guilty, but you deny that they even provided alibi (which The Fairfax Times indicated that staffers said they did) and indicate that the proof is self-evident. These are assumptions. This is not substance. You know the kids, but don't know their story? If you knew the kids, then you would know that the origin of the story is not a rumor, unless you failed to gather details directly from the kids and are using your relationship as a proxy to unjustly claim higher authority and credibility in this argument. That, or the kids told you themselves, which you could have just said (and backed up)
Bill April 10, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Sooo the rinky dink paper and the staffer said it's so and therefore it must be so. It couldn't be that the paper got their facts wrong and the staffer is lying to cover his ass. It has to be that the kid is just making assumptions that the better than him parent can find holes in. Based on what I said, your last sentence is the only one that makes any sense. Or it could be that I am one of the students. It doesn't matter because adults just want to believe what they want and will use all their comp
Bill April 10, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Complicated logic and fancy words to turn their beliefs into truth. It's very simple this time though. Their was weed in the bag and the students were never questioned. You can keep giving your lawyer type arguments all you want. The paper got it wrong or whoever talked to the paper was wrong or lied. I'm just trying to clear things up so everyone can get over it. Believe what you want. Nothing I say is going to change that anyway since you're better than me.
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 10:10 PM
To clear up any confusion, I am a student at Madison, and I think you summed up your own beliefs with the single phrase "It doesn't matter because adults just want to believe what they want..." Fancy words have nothing to do with this. My references were to the types of logical fallacies being asserted through your paper. Allison Noll is the only person reporting that the administration did nothing about the kids. The staff did not search them, they conceded that, but they did question them about it. Nevertheless there hasn't been any circumstantial evidence outside of one witness, and not even a shred of concrete evidence. Your mind is closed and you are so dead set on reaffirming the idea that Madison students are such delinquents that you are only listening to one side. Stop trying to make us look bad, and I'll stop trying to make you look dumb. Alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug offenses at area high and secondary schools (these are just for the ones near Madison: Madison: 18 Marshall: 18 McLean: 33 Oakton: 26 We are not bad kids. Stop incriminating us using the sole claim of Mrs. Noll and without legitimate proof. The truth is that facts were never found. The official story and what other students and teachers have been saying is that it was trail mix.
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 10:28 PM
There are drugs at every school. I transferred here from another state, in a town more affluent than Vienna, with an average combined SAT score 56 points higher than Madisons, but with 5 times the drug problem, which included weed, coke, oxy, vyvanse (+ other prescriptions), and much more than what Madison would tolerate without barring the windows and stationing military-grade attack dogs. Multiple freshmen would stumble into my French class after lunch, which included bathroom breaks to bake and oxy cocktails. From what I've observed, the highest income brackets raise fairly privileged kids who have the ample combination of money and time, as well as a lack of parental presence, to form a lifestyle which is inclusive of drugs and other habits. Bob Marley is a good friend of mine in real life, and what he said, about parents instilling values, couldn't hold truer for those who can't spend time with their kids. High-profile careers often consume lives and keep parents from spending the time to instill desired values into kids. I won't lie: I used to smoke. I stopped, partially because it was a waste of time and money, but mostly because I didn't want to upset my parents, who are a huge influence when they are around. Sadly, in many other cases they are not.
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 10:41 PM
I sincerely hope that I have not come off as too pompous, but the story among the students is that it was trail mix, and there were no concrete facts to complement the claim. I wanted to point this out as logically as I could, without purveying an obvious, nonsensical emotional attachment that would annul my argument. I am an 18-year-old senior at Madison. I moved here in 2009, and the mean stay in a any place I've lived is about 3 years. I can honestly say that I love this school, and that the drug problem, by my own experience and statistical comparison, is not exceptionally high. At the end of the day, home is where the heart is, and should be the final source of values, whether it be through family suppers, travel, or, if worse comes to worst, drug tests. Prevention truly is the key. (One final note, my old school did a similar survey, and 30% of the total kids had smoked weed within 30 days of the survey, as opposed to 25% of the seniors.)
Bill April 10, 2011 at 10:53 PM
To clear up your confusion, I am a student at Madison too. I thought that was pretty clear but guess not. Even if you didn't realize that, I am wondering why you are calling this my paper? It isn't even a paper actually. It's an online community news site. And it most definitely is not mine. I just was telling everyone to stop spreading the ridiculous crap about the trail mix. I did not say Madison was a druggie school and I did not say anything about bad kids. I said the truth. That a lot of Madison students smoke weed. You are not making me look dumb. You are making yourself look dumb because everyone knows I'm right. And you look particularly dumb because you don't know what you are talking about. That's why I thought you were a parent. I actually still do. There was weed in the baggie and the students were not questioned. Ask the students themselves if you know so much. I can't wait for your response.
Bill April 10, 2011 at 10:54 PM
And if you think there is no coke, oxy, and other drugs at Madison think again.
Erica R. Hendry April 10, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Hi all, I saw someone mention an official story and wanted to offer what Patch was given as the "official story." The "official story" given by the principal in interviews with Patch for this series was that the students were not questioned. He did not mention trail mix in the interview. Thanks for reading and commenting, Erica
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 11:31 PM
So why are you making us look bad?
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 11:34 PM
And I know there are drugs at the school, it's just not special compared to other school.
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 11:34 PM
schools*
Betterthanyou April 10, 2011 at 11:44 PM
I thought you were an adult because you're doing nothing to improve our image. Technically nothing has been proven against the kids, but reality is for the individual to judge. Stop acting like a Langley kid and pretend you know how to behave.

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