The anti-substance abuse effort that began last spring in Oak Park and River Forest focused mainly on the high school. Now it is extending its reach directly into the middle schools.

Next Monday, March 21, the Citizen’s Council will host a drug forum at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School for parents. A second forum will take place April 11 at Percy Julian Middle School for fifth graders and their parents.

Kristine Raino-Ogden, a member of the council’s middle school action committee, said the middle schools are key in tackling teen substance abuse.

“While the extent of the middle school problem is unclear, we believe that the middle schools and middle school parents are a big part of the solution,” she said, speaking at District 97’s school board meeting March 8.

The council’s parent committee groups have led the anti drug effort that began last spring. Several forums have taken place already, mainly focusing on students attending Oak Park and River Forest High School. The two upcoming forums are the first to focus on middle school kids.

Both will be more interactive, said Raino-Ogden.

The March 21 forum will include an interactive slideshow with parents answering questions related to myths about youth substance abuse. The Brooks students will be given the same survey prior to the forum. Their answers will be matched with their parents at the event to see how their views differ.

A parent and student will also share their experiences with substance abuse at the March 21 forum. At the April forum, student performers from CAST and BRAVO will be invited to perform role-playing skits about teen and pre-teen substance abuse. Additional guest speakers and group discussions are also scheduled for each forum.

“I’m hoping and expecting that these will be the most engaging and interactive forums that we’ve done to date,” said Raino-Ogden, adding that District 97 has been supportive of the anti-drug campaign of the last year.

She also noted that Dist. 97 students do not participate in the Illinois Youth Survey. The survey is given bi-annually—the most recent in 2010—to sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders, asking students about their involvements and use of drugs and alcohol. Raino-Ogden said Dist. 97’s participation in the 2012 survey will help the community better understand the extent of the problem in Oak Park’s middle schools.

According to middle school discipline data from Dist. 97, drug offenses are occurring but not in huge numbers that show up in consequences handed out. In a recent interview with Wednesday Journal, Kevin Anderson, Dist. 97’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said there were two instances this current school year involving students disciplined for using drugs.

If you go

Drug forum for middle school parents

  • Brooks Middle School, 325 S. Kenilworth
  • Monday March 21; 7-8:30 p.m.

Drug forum for fifth graders and parents

  • Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland
  • Monday April 11; 7-8:30 p.m.

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