Wilson held assemblies in the auditorium on Wednesday and Thursday to inform freshman and sophomores of the dangers of drug use. Drug prevention practitioners brought by Wilson presented information via powerpoint and fielded questions from students.
Clinical Psychologist Perette Arrington and 10th Grade Assistant Principal Julian Pineda organized the event to address prevalent drug use at Wilson.
“There’s problems with substance use, and I think it’s small events that I’m not privy to where kids have even been caught with the juuls or been caught with weed on them or caught coming in high or under the influence,” said Arrington. “At some point it [got] to the point where several individuals have approached me and asked [if I] could assist and do something.”
“The drug use at Wilson is very casual,” agreed Principal Martin. “More students use drugs than I would like.”
Pineda and Arrington divided each grade into smaller groups to make the conversation more intimate, though the audience was still as large as multiple classes.
The assemblies incorporated the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “2019 National Drug and IQ Challenge.” Students were asked whether the percent of underage drinkers has increased in the last 10 years (it hasn’t), what dabbing is (smoking marijuana oil extracts), and ‘brainiac’ bonus questions such as whether cocaine and methamphetamines produce their effects in the same way (no).
Besides the ‘IQ Challenge,’ the assembly centered on an eighteen slide powerpoint presented by Director of Ward 3 and 4 Prevention Center Nadine Parker. The presentation, which lasted the entire period and served as an accompaniment to Parker’s discussion with students, described the scientific side effects of vaping, alcohol, marijuana use, opioids, cocaine, and heroine.
For example, Parker highlighted the short-term effects of alcohol use on decision-making and risk evaluation while noting the long-term dangers of developing alcoholism and damaging cognitive development. Besides specific information on drugs themselves, the presentation included nursery rhymes, such as ‘ring around the rosy,’ to help remember the information, as well as a general description of the importance of a clear brain for bodily function.
In the presentation, Parker highlighted the results of a National Institute on Drug Abuse study, which found that teenagers are more likely to use drugs because they have not seen the long-term effects of risky behavior.
The administration decided to target only underclassmen because of the logistical difficulty of holding an assembly for the entire student body. “We wanted to do something for the whole school but 1800 kids [is] kind of difficult to manage. And with seniors having holes in their schedules it’s just very hard to be able to touch base with the senior classes,” said Arrington.
The atmosphere between some students and the presenter was adversarial. A student at one of the assemblies asked why recreational use couldn’t be safe in small quantities. Following the question, clapping broke out across the audience. At another assembly, a student tearfully asked why students didn’t learn more about drugs that could help counter the effects of mental illness, and the student body responded with similar enthusiasm.
“The information was presented in a way that seemed irrelevant and out of touch, causing students to find it entertaining and not take it seriously,” said sophomore Andy Burris. “[I] definitely didn’t learn anything [and] the information presented was nothing new.”
Arrington believes that despite some student backlash, the information presented was well-accepted and valuable. “There were several students who walked out and said, ‘Thank you. This is important information.’ And just in being present during all of the sessions that we had the kids that were sitting quietly and paying attention, the assumption is that they were receiving it well,” said Arrington. “We also had those disruptive individuals who were laughing and joking and talking and carried on full-blown conversations when there was an adult presenter which was very disrespectful.”
Nadeem Parker, Director of Ward 3 and 4 DC Prevention Center, said that a smaller group would be more productive. “I prefer the classroom effect because you have a smaller group and it’s almost a 1 on 1, [Wilson is hard] because it’s a larger school and it has all different ethnic groups, all different economic groups, so it’s a different dynamic.”
Martin believes that students work better in smaller groups, and while assemblies have the ability to succeed, “there’s a lot of group think that occurs when kids are in a large group together.”
Parker stresses that her job is to inform students, and she is not bothered by heckling from the audience. “We always have trouble with students not believing, not taking the information, because as my first screen said teens have not lived long enough. I used to think that we knew it all, as you get older you’re able to reach back and identify. So it doesn’t bother me, my job is to provide the information.”