Three Colonel Gray students came forward to tell their own stories of drug addiction and recovery to a crowd of concerned parents during a presentation panel at the high school Thursday night.
The students had experienced addiction issues first-hand, assiting with the goal of the “Making the Connection” panel to provide information to help facilitate parents’ discussions with their own children about drug use and the risks associated with it.
Although each of three stories were different, they all shared aspects that are common among high school students using drugs. For all of them, using drugs had started as a fun hobby with peers before turning into an addiction that led to dropping out, or being kicked out, of the high school.
“It started to get to the point where I’m not just doing it because it’s fun. I’m not just doing it to go out with my friends. I’m doing it because my body is saying ‘give me this,’ it’s hard to explain. It’s a rough thing,” said one student, who began selling and using a multitude of drugs after being kicked out of the school.
The student added that he fought to get clean from hard drugs, enrolled back into the school and is scheduled to graduate this year.
“I’ll be the first of the boys in my family to get Grade 12, “ said the student, receiving a thunderous applause from the parents.
The panel also included school resource officer Tim Keizer, youth worker Tyler Larter, Dr. Denise Lea of Mount Herbert Addictions Facility, parent and teacher Mary Beth Bradley and Rose Barbour, a parent who has struggled with student addiction.
Keizer, who has been stationed at the school this year with term ending at the end of the month, gave credit to the students for developing a “peer-to-peer” drug prevention program.
The program saw students spread awareness by telling their stories to all Grade 9 students at feeder schools Queen Charlotte and Birchwood Intermediate.
Keizer said feedback from student evaluations of those presentations were unbelievable.
“For them, it was very eye opening. It’s not a video, it’s real life,” said Keizer. “I have nothing but respect for these students. It was really something else for me to be a part of that.”
While Keizer has brought an increased awareness of the drug problem in Island high schools to public attention, the officer spoke little throughout the night. Instead, the panel belonged largely to the students.
However, he did say that the drug problem is not isolated to Colonel Gray.
“Do not think this is something unique to this school and that it’s a bad place to send your children,” Keizer said. “It’s the opposite. We’re sitting here at a school where the administration has jumped onboard and recognized there is a problem.”
Larter, who has been at the school for 10 years, said the night was not to “scare” parents but to create awareness of the reality of increased teen drug use. He said the problem is not restricted to school but exists generally in today’s society.
The night also saw parents field questions to the students of how to approach their own kids regarding drug use.
“Try to deal with it in the most calm and easy way possible,” offered one of the students.
“Try to be involved as much as you can and be interested in what they’re doing… just show that you’re there for them and try to be open with them about things. Don’t be mad about them for telling you something but try to work with it.”