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One high school's approach to reducing drug abuse

By Robert M. Press / February 9, 1981



Atlanta

It's 8:40 a.m. The final, long, yellow school bus, now empty, is still at the front door of Northside public high school here. Outside, two lanes of commuter cars whiz southward toward downtown Atlanta, passing elegant homes set well back behind trees now barren of most leaves.

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Inside the school, the last few students rush to beat the 8:45 bell that signals the start of another school day.

Four years ago the starting bell would find many students still not in class.The tardiness rate was high. So were some of the students. Students smoked marijuana fairly openly, according to students and administrators. "The drug scene was kind of heavy," recalls one senior who himself used drugs then. "It wasn't just marijuana, it was LSD, Quaaludes, Coke [cocaine], PCP [Angel Dust], and Speed [amphetamines]. There was a good deal of selling going on [at school]. The big thing was to stock up for the weekend."

"It was a zoo," says English teacher Rosemary Lockard. With the lack of discipline and kids always running into class late, "we couldn't teach," she says.

Northside High Principal Willam Rudolph describes the environment he found when he arrived in 1977 as "open and permissive."

But things have changed since then.

A firm school policy against drugs, the insistence by parents on discipline and academic reforms, and the cooperation of students have had a major effect on Northside High School.

At a time when drugs and student discipline are still major problems in many schools across the nation, at Northside:

* Open drug use has been halted. Anyone found with drugs is apprehended and turned over to the police.

* Tardiness and absenteeism has been cut drastically. Parent volunteers began calling homes to tell parents their child was absent or late and to verify excuses.

* Enrollment in foreign languages and physics has increased about 25 percent during the past several years. Student "apathy" was widespread, says Mr. Rudolph. Many were taking the easiest courses, he says, so the school began encouraging enrollment in more challenging programs.

* Academic performance, already improving before Rudolph's arrival, has continued to climb on statewide tests, though it has declined slightly on scholastic aptitude tests.Northside, with some 1,200 students, remains slightly below national norms by both measures. About 75 percent of Northside graduates go on to a two- or four- year colleges.

* With few exceptions, black and white students continue to get along well, offering what Rudolph says is "absolute proof" that integration can work. Integration is "necessary" for students to learn to respect "different value systems," he says.Half the students at Northside are black; most of them are bused under a voluntary program. Most affluent families in nearby neighborhoods send their children to private schools.

* A highly acclaimed School for the Performing Arts, draws talented students to Northside from all parts of the city.

Parents played a key role in fighting the drug use among Northside students. Beginning with just four mothers, they met among themselves to learn drug abuse facts.

"If you don't know what you're talking about, the kids can talk circles around you," says one of the mothers, Rosellen Amisano.

Then the parents jointly imposed 10 p.m. weeknight curfews and no-drug rules on their children. Because their children's friends were being hit with the same rules at the same time, parental enforcement was easier, says Mrs. Amisano, who helped launch the effort.

The parents were helped by Georgia State University Prof. Thomas J. Gleaton, whose Parent Resources Institute for Drug Education [University Plaza, Georgia State University; Atlanta, 3003], sends information packets to parents.

Marijuana use among Northside students is far from ended, say Rudolph, Mrs. Amisano, and students interviewed at random at the school. But its use has been driven "underground" and may in fact be much less frequent than in the past.

Some students grumble about the increased discipline, and still others welcome it.

"Things were getting unreasonable," says a class officer of the past behavior o f many students.