Teens act out - to make a point

Norwich - In one skit, several teenagers were attending what was supposed to be a homework gathering at a friend's house.

When a boy and a girl disappeared into the bathroom, their friends came crashing through the door and angrily confronted them. They promptly delivered the girl to her father waiting outside in the car. "Here's your daughter on heroin," one boy said. "Do what you gotta do."

In another scenario, a girl at a sleepover found the dad's bottle of Oxycontin in the bathroom and tried to get the other girls to try it. Some of them stormed out as the dad arrived with a pizza.

Realistic scenarios? Helpful messages? Would teenagers pay attention to a TV commercial with such stories?

About 30 students from Norwich Free Academy, Thames River Academy and Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School spent Monday morning at Slater Auditorium at NFA acting out these scenarios they invented as possible TV commercial messages their peers would heed. Some were entertaining, some funny and some dramatic, with screams, folding chairs crashing to the floor and physical confrontation.

The teen forum was organized by the Community Coalition for Children, which comprises several participating high schools and dozens of local health and social services agencies. Monday's format included icebreaker games, statistics and information on drug side effects for the skits and the open discussion questions written by students in the NFA group Students Against Driving Drunk.

The laughter, applause and good-natured skit critiques ended abruptly when NFA Project Outreach Coordinator Jodi Vara launched an open discussion with students and teachers. About two-thirds of participants raised their hands when asked if they knew someone who was using drugs.

"It's really hard to see friends you have known since elementary school go to drugs," one girl said.

Another worried that friends who had promised to stop would start using again. A senior worried about his freshman sister. But to some, drug use in high school is "no big deal." Those who want to try it will do so, and if they don't like it, they will stop, they argued.

Students offered mixed opinions on whether random testing - such as a random breathalyzer test NFA uses at school dances or drug dog searches at Thames River Academy - work to deter drug use. Some felt students could easily get around the searches or avoid the test.

Na Li, a junior at NFA, said the tests unfairly cast suspicions on everyone.

Asked what schools can do to reduce drug use, Grasso Tech senior Christopher Jackson of Norwich said: "Nothing, nothing at all." He said information is posted throughout the school, and students ignore it. Others said teachers should get more involved when they overhear conversations about drugs.

Most participants adamantly opposed the idea of parents searching their bedrooms as a matter of trust and violation of their private space.

But they listened intently when Thames River Academy math teacher Regina Markovitz relayed her own story of accidentally finding an empty Vodka bottle in her daughter's room while looking for a pair of athletic knee pads. At first, her daughter tried to "back-pedal" and say she didn't know about the bottle. But her mother wouldn't accept that explanation.

"It opened up a discussion," she told the students. "We talked. "We had a big, long discussion. I'm a high school teacher. I know what kids do."

c.bessette@theday.com

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