Pot will be legal. But not for OPRF students

OPRF students work to tell peers worries of early use

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By Lacey Sikora 'Connects'

Contributing Reporter

In January, recreational marijuana will be legal in Illinois, but don't expect big changes in how Oak Park and River Forest High School handles possession of marijuana on campus. 

Lynda Parker, student services director, says of the current policy and anticipated reaction to the changing state law, "Students are arrested for possession of marijuana and given a suspension, social probation, and a referral to the Prevention/Wellness person. We will review our practices given the upcoming changes in the law to make sure they remain consistent with the law.  Nevertheless, those changes in the law will not affect students of high school age because marijuana will remain illegal for youth under 21 years old."

Ginger Colamussi, OPRF's prevention and wellness coordinator, says the most recent Illinois Youth Survey, conducted in 2018, sheds some light on how many students at OPRF use marijuana and what their attitudes are toward the drug.  She looks at the percentage of students who report using marijuana in the past 30 days, a number she says is more indicative of regular usage than looking at students who report using in the past year. 

"Seventy-four percent of our students reported not using in the past 30 days. Clearly, that is by far the majority of our students. It is still a concern that 26 percent are using, but it's good that students are by and large making healthy choices," said Colamussi.

Colamussi says the 2018 survey shows that "most OPRF students do not view regular marijuana use as risky. Forty-nine percent of sophomores and 68 percent of seniors think there is slight risk or no risk of harming yourself if you smoke marijuana once or twice per week."

The Centers for Disease Control reports those beliefs are wrong. The CDC Marijuana Fact Sheet reads, "the teen brain is actively developing and often will not be fully developed until the mid-twenties. Marijuana use during this period may harm the developing teen brain." 

The CDC cites studies that show the negative effects of marijuana use in adolescence include: decline in school performance, increased risk of mental health issues, impaired driving, and the potential for addiction, reporting that 1 in 6 teens who repeatedly use marijuana can become addicted.

When she meets with students who have any substance abuse infraction, Colamussi says she works to address the reason why students are using and discusses methods of support to help them stop. She also organizes school efforts at education and prevention and says that one of the most effective programs is a group of peer educators known as HYPE (healthy youth peer educators.)

HYPE members serve as role models and educators in the areas of drug and alcohol prevention, suicide prevention and mental health issues.  Colamussi says their role in reaching their peers is meaningful, "Research tells us that there is greater impact from peers talking about these topics. Kids are more likely to relate to peers and more likely to believe their peers."

During the school year, HYPE conducts roughly 100 workshops for OPRF classmates, and Colamussi, says one version, The Blunt Truth, is focused on sharing the risks of marijuana and vaping.  "It creates a large amount of conversation in the classroom. It's fact-based, not judgment-based. The HYPE members are equipping their peers with facts so they can make healthy choices," she says.

HYPE students also run the annual Red Ribbon week every October as well as National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week in April. Sarah Vivas, a sophomore HYPE member, says manning the tables for Red Ribbon Week was a great way to use interactive, fun games to disseminate facts about drug use. "Other students, who would walk by the table at lunch, would stop and do fun activities while also learning about drug awareness. "

Jonny Hugh, a sophomore HYPE member, thinks the workshop entitled Friends Helping Friends offers real-life help, saying, "I think that this workshop is great because almost everyone has been in a situation where you want to help someone but you may not know how. This brings a simple but powerful procedure to helping someone who may be struggling, whether it be about drugs, mental health, school work, or so much more." 

Beyond coordinating student-driven programming, Colamussi's office works on producing educational media about the facts and risks of marijuana and other substances. A monthly newsletter known as The Stall Street Journal is displayed in school bathroom stalls and uses humor to convey health and wellness information, including facts about substance abuse. She also publishes a new e-newsletter for parents called Healthy Huskies, which focuses on mental health initiatives as well as substance abuse education.

In November, OPRF hosted the pilot Parent University, aimed at covering a number of topics touching on teen substance use and mental health. Colamussi says a second Parent University is planned for the spring and will include speakers on the topic of marijuana legalization.

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Reader Comments

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Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 9th, 2019 10:16 AM

Kevin Peppard There are two people who the Wednesday Journal reported that had some questionable concern's and things seem to have worked out although it was not in a public forum. There was a person running for a local position that could not control releasing another name that I am known for and it was good the person did not win the position since the person lacks the ability to refrain from disclosing information and reacts out of anger. I had a clearance and never released information because it was part of the job. I do not know how they determine a person for a clearance although it worked out. Now with social media, people some times use it instead of the old fashion very reliable gossip. I know what you wrote is not gossip although you may have been given a bigger audience if you submitted an opinion piece to the Wednesday Journal, and also asked why at the high school a person is still able to be employed by the school when it conflicts with the school's policy. I did not mean to make you seem like a gossiper, it is just finding the right place to express your concerns that may be better handled before moving it to social media

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: December 8th, 2019 11:57 PM

Tommy McCoy: I don't expect the High School to do anything. I just think the voters should know the background of who's on the ballot. He's got a lot of baggage. So do I, but I'm not arrogant enough to run for Congress.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 8th, 2019 9:06 PM

Kevin Peppard You remind me of the next door neighbor who has to tell all they know. The only thing that is important would be if a person is influencing student's in a way that does not conform with what the school requires from adult's. If you want your information to be useful, then take it up with the school because you may have some thing that the school should address to the parent's of the student's

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: December 8th, 2019 6:01 PM

@Tom MacMillan: Why not name names? This isn't some secret of his -- it's part of his campaign materials, and meant to be seen. It's Anthony Clark, leader of the Suburban Unity Alliance (which has reporting problems with the IRS) and a Special Ed teacher at OPRF, where twice, as reported in this paper, he has had his teaching duties temporarily suspended. And yes, he's seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the 7th Illinois District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Can you picture him sitting in on a classified intelligence briefing re the Chinese , Russian, Iranians or North Koreans? "Why can't we all just get along?"

Tom MacMillan from OAK PARK  

Posted: December 8th, 2019 10:54 AM

An employee of our High School, who is running for Congress, has a political facebook page covered with his thoughts on this subject. His extremely public quotes include, "Cannabis can be a gateway to empowerment!". His quote in the Sun Times says, ""Cannabis has always been there for me throughout my life". He is certainly free to feel that way, it is legal soon and he is an adult, but if he is being paid to be in a teacher role model figure at OPRF it is a pretty mixed message. Maybe the "gap" is between smokers and non-smokers.

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