This morning I woke to the news that “a D.C. elementary school student was charged with possession of a controlled substance Thursday after being accused of taking cocaine to school and sharing it with four classmates who were hospitalized after ingesting the drug.” (via Washington Post, see full article here).
Being a parent of a fourth grader in Arlington, I have heard of and dealt with the issues of bullying and inappropriate behavior in our school, but the story of elementary school age kids involved with a controlled substance, at this level, just tops it.
I’ve worked with an endless number of kids/parents in the past and now adding the role of parent to that background, I feel I can rationalize things, and work my way through the questions of “How does this happen and how did we get here?”; instead of taking the easy route and saying, “We have terrible schools,” or “Let’s blame the government, the schools, the teachers, and sadly in some cases, even the child.”
After observing the huge efforts made by Arlington Schools over the last five years, I’ve seen the school system develop and implement anti-bullying programs across class levels and have a full process of support for the families involved in an incident. If you were to walk through my child’s elementary school at any given day you’d see student made posters of anti-bullying, a rocket shooting the words “send bullying out of this world” into outer-space instead of posters talking about the Science Fair or Math Club.
As a whole in Arlington, I find that students are very educated on how to recognize the issue, the tools used to detour it, and how to support fellow students who may encounter the problem or even be the problem themselves. If you asked an average fourth grader in Arlington schools they could probably teach adults a thing or two on the subject.
So you’re probably wondering why I’ve lumped “a kid bringing drugs to school” into the issue of Bullying. If you read through definitions of the word, it’s somewhat broad and covers quite a lot. But one version is involving subtle methods of coercion and sometimes intimidation. I’m not going to speculate whether or not the students in DC were coerced or intimidated but more often than not, this is involved. It’s peer pressure, it’s power and control and sometimes it’s as simple as a child trying to fit in.
Arlington is not at all immune to what happened in DC. If it hasn’t happened yet, unfortunately, at some point, it probably will. I hear the stories from my own child of classmates being rammed against a fence at the school-yard, threats from a child who brought a lighter to school, being slapped in the lunch line because of a sudden uncontollable outburst or because one kid thinks another views themselves as better then the he/she. And these are things that occur in a wonderful Arlington neighborhood school, fairly well funded, great programs, staff and with for the most part, a huge amount parental involvement.
After seeing first, second and third hand, how the schools in Arlington manage this problem that often seems to come to what is probably a legal dead-end, what happens next? The parents have had mandatory meeting after meeting, the student has been talked to, gone through school counseling, had temporary suspensions, but if children are not receiving the example, guidance and nurture they need at home to break what is almost a guaranteed, learned behavior passed down through possibly generations of abuse, what do we as a community do?
Our kids are coming home physically or emotionally damaged which runs the risk of the victims becoming bullies themselves. And what about the perpetrating child? What happens to them? They become another victim of abuse and a community that fails them.
Do we attempt peer pressure among our parent circles? And how do we do this without becoming like past generations where we would “alienate these parents” or “just not talk about it”?
Do we create additional parental training/support programs? If we do, how do we make it okay in our society to be a parent who seeks help and admit we’re not always good at this job and how incredibly challenging it is.
How do we change the cycle?
Life brings enough challenges on it’s own, we live in a time when future generations have more obstacles ahead of them than we or our parents ever imagined. There must to be a way to create a more positive environment and provide youth with the basic tools needed for survival and living life.
I’m not sure of the answer. This is why I ask you.
Written by: NS (a concerned parent)